Saturday, October 10, 2009


Make Room for the Snake
Article,illustration and photos by E.J.Brunton

I come from a long line of gardeners who taught me about hard work. They waged a mortal battle against the creatures that resided in the garden: snakes, toads, insects and of course weeds. The gentler stuff, the take-your-breath away stuff, was left for the Garden herself to teach me.

I will admit gardening is not for the faint-hearted. Someone once said you don’t garden to get in shape; you have to be in shape to garden. You can get all the weight-bearing exercises you need right outside the door without paying a membership fee. The price of admission is a willing heart and a strong back - and vice-versa.

Just lifting those 40 pound bags of manure and top soil out of the trunk of the car is one thing. Getting it to where it will do the most good is a whole other thing. Then there’s the digging in; all good aerobic exercise, both for the soil and yourself.

Promise you won’t let me loose with a credit card in a nursery. It is an interesting term - nursery. I never thought of myself as the nurturing kind; but present me with an orphan end-of-the season plant and I go all soft and gooey.

In spring when those trusting little sprouts blink up at you from their bed of fallen brown leaves can you resist pulling aside the blanket for a better look? It is like welcoming old friends who you feared might have died. But here they are, safe, sound, renewed from their long nap; bursting to show you what they can do.

I know each leaf, I know each stem and I know all their names, their likes and dislikes. Give this one a little more water, that one some lime. The kid in the corner; she likes to cool her heels so insulate her roots from the sun.

In summer the warm soft belly of my garden is so welcoming that I can’t keep my hands off her. Barehanded I rid her of weeds, dig in more compost, and quench her thirst with rain from my barrels.

But it’s more. It is the feel of doing something forbidden, being a naughty kid again, wallowing in the dirt, and digging right in there barehanded. It’s daring. Get some dirt in your hair and on your face and don’t give a damn who sees you licking the salt off your upper lip.

And I like the mystery of it. If I am pretty sure I didn’t plant something in that spot, if I can’t identify this little bit of green as any particular weed, I let it grow. I give it time to strut its stuff before I make any rash decisions. Thanks to the winds, the birds and the squirrels, (not to mention my failing memory) I have been the recipient of some very surprising floral gifts.

The healing garden is still under construction. I can feel my face going a little pink as I admit to you that many of the tender plantlets I drove several hours to find, buy, bring home and tend to, have grown up to closely resemble some that I spent years eradicating!

This year I am venturing into the wonderful world of vegetables. As I go on my morning walkabout I marvel at how my worm compost has turned the uncertain teenaged tomatoes into blossoming young adults. Carrots, peppers, hot peppers, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cucumber round out the fare.

Do you share my sense of wonder that for the price of dropping a tiny seed into a hole in the earth, feeding and watering it, a few weeks later we are rewarded with a lusty vigorous plant that can feed US? I am concentrating on heritage plants, as frankly the genetically improved ones scare the be jeepers out of me.

I give free reign to my creative side in the garden. Just by putting my shoulder to the wheel barrow and my back into the shoveling I can change my little world. Maybe I want it flat, maybe I want a hill, a waterfall, a pond, a Japanese garden. All it takes is a drop of inspiration and buckets of perspiration.

The Garden and I are party planners; hosts with the most. I provide the venue, and the drinks. She does her part with vegetable snacks and flowers dressed in their best. They splash on some perfume and put on a great show for the visitors. We bask in the glow of the compliments we harvest.

To me, gardens are mirrors reflecting the people who tend them. Is the gardener bold and fun-loving? That harlequin mix of purples and yellows and oranges tells me yes. Does a pastel palette reflect a reserved and contemplative gardener? Are they well-organized, dare I say anal, with everything marching in precise rows and pruned into matching shapes? Or are they wild and crazy with flowers and grasses and green peppers all making an exuberant stew? That weedy, neglected one has a gardener who may be depressed, unwell, or reaching the end of their life cycle.

Me? I am the one with the exuberant stew. But I am also a thoughtful guardian of our earth and our fellow travelers: one who makes room for the snake as well as the snapdragon, the wasp as well as the wildflower.

2 comments:

Peeoknee said...

Bravo. A great read. And one that puts you in the mood to start all over again and again. And a gentle nudge to be kind to Mother Earth!

S.Thompson said...

I shouldn't have read this one now, in the Fall. With Winter fast approaching it seems like Spring is much farther away than I want it to be and your visions make my fingers itch...