Monday, May 5, 2008

World Naked Gardening Day +1 in My Backyard

Five beautiful flowers and one unwanted dandelion

Not everyone is blessed with a backyard that offers a modicum of privacy from neighbors. My property sits higher that the surrounding lots (by a few feet) and with the six foot high solid cedar fence I put in a number of years ago . . . and the thickening foliage of the cedars, flowering pears and cherry trees screening the east and south sides as the days lengthen, little of my enjoyment of the backyard and the garden is observable. Which means I can often spend hours enjoying the yard without bothering to put clothes on.

The cherry tree is full blossom

It was not always this nude accessible. In deference to my mother, I rarely ventured undressed into the backyard while she was living with me. It was not out of shame. My family knows I am a 'card-carrying', practicing nudist. It was out of respect. That and I often had relatives living in my home long term.

Setting the coming weeks appointments, clients confirmed
and the backyard all to myself

The garden: My mother took special pride in nurturing (while she was capable) what she called an English Garden in my backyard. An English Garden is an informal riot of flowering plants that have no real organization or pattern other than expected height placement. Rather, the garden is designed to change over the growing season as various plants come into bloom, only to be replaced by others as the season progresses. In other words, the garden is always in bloom . . . and self-perpetuates itself from year to year. Of all my mother's accomplishments (other than us kids), her garden was very special to her . . . and will remain as a memorial.

World Naked Gardening Day fell on Saturday but Saturday was much too drizzly and cool to be working out in the garden nude. Plus, Saturday was devoted to the Memorial Service for my mother. But Sunday was really nice. Since my brothers and sisters had made pilgrimage to various nurseries around Puget Sound and deposited flats of flower annuals on my doorstep to be planted, it seemed natural (pun fully intended) to get out of my clothes on the next sunny day, do some essential weeding, and plant those young plants as a belated World Naked Gardening Day observance.

Contemplative moments (and sunlight) in a special part of the garden
. . . the grotto

Tucked away in a quiet corner of my property is a special place. Though I'm not particularly religious, the symbolism of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox branches have deep reflective effects on me (I was baptized Greek Orthodox, re-baptized into the Church of England and attend Catholic services.)

So we have this grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary, often graced with Greek 'Worry Beads' (komboloi) κομβολοι . . . all surrounded by hardy flowering perennials and statuettes of cute animals . . . the English part. The compact corner is designed with lots of niches and benches to sit and be by yourself in your thoughts. The grotto also catches most of the sun yet is the best screened and private area of my backyard. It is a favorite place of mine to just sit and enjoy a morning cup of coffee. Actually, I'll let you in on a little secret . . . at home I drink hot tea . . . the English way with milk and sugar. I am English, after all! As the English would say, 'We're civilized'. As most others would say . . . 'Milk in your tea!!!!!! That's uncivilized!'

The early morning sun is warming the earth,
encouraging the flowers and nutrifying my skin.
Where do I start?

Every springtime I go into ritual assault on the dandelions that attempt to take over the lawn and to a lesser extent, the flower beds. We have never used weed killer, herbicides or pesticides on our plants and lawn. Regardless, the lawn and flowers seem to have thrived over the years. Dandelions are taken care of with brute force . . . each day I come out and survey my yard for the telltale yellow of a dandelion attempting to get it's own fix of sunlight. If I see one . . . and I usually see more than one . . . I'm off with a puller and out comes that pesky weed. It's a constant battle but a little self-satisfying to keep the upper hand. In the flower bed they hide under the flox or try to mimic their blooms as something wanted. But they're obvious and I'm soon out there with puller in hand to announce my position of their continued existence.

At the 'screening box' preparing earth to put back in the garden.
A fully-equipped greenhouse is in the background.

A bigger problem is the resident population of squirrels. The wildlife loves our yard . . . in truth, the birds and small animals are part of the balanced ecosystem we have created. In spring, robins get fat on juicy earthworms and then head for a community skinny-dip in the birdbath. A neighbor's cat . . . fat and lazy . . . often lays ineffective ambush in the nearby foliage, trying to blend in. Another neighbor feeds the squirrels . . . peanuts in the shell turn up in the garden all year round and my weeding and tilling leaves those squirrels totally confused come springtime, "Now where did I bury that nut?" Honey bees are all over the place but they never confuse me with a brightly-colored tulip (fortunately).

We leave them alone because we enjoy seeing the wildlife delighting in the abundance of opportunity in the yard. It is fun to watch their antics . . . watch the not-quite-perfected creep, crawl and ambush techniques of an overweight Persian longhair cat that thinks he is king of the jungle. There is balance in an English-Cottage style garden . . . birds eat all the insects they want (including the unwanted ones) and and the garden is kept healthy. But it takes a lot of work . . . and what better way than gardening au' natural.

Getting the heavy, hard labor out of the way first . . .
a Flowering Asian Pear tree in need of earth-turning near the trunk

When I remodeled my home some twenty years ago to add living arrangements for my mother, the contractor took the excavated earth for the foundation and spread it out a foot and a half thick over the backyard. Over the years that topcover of glacier-till fill has turned into a rich humus of soil. But in the process the contractor buried the graft balls of several flowering fruit trees on my property. When you bury the graft of a plant you encourage sucker growth from the wrong part of the plant (or tree,in this case). So I had to build planter-wells around the graft of each tree to hold back the earth. Part of my spring garden ritual is to clean out those wells and insure that the grafts stay exposed. Shovel work and down on my bare hands and knees pushing earth aside and nipping any emergent suckers before they can get established.

Is that a weed or a good plant?

Then it's on to weeding. I'm learning. Dandelions are easy but how do I know that little bunch of green leaves is weed or a flowering plant we planted last year? Grasp and tug! I've figured out that weeds are not so established that they can resist much of a testing tug . . . whereas the perennials planted one or two seasons ago have well-established roots. If it lifts from the earth easily, it's probably a weed. If not, then I'd better rethink pulling it out. It's a tedious process and takes me the better part of the afternoon just weeding and tilling a small section of the garden. I suppose World Naked Gardening Day will have to be re-celebrated a number of additional days in my backyard in order to get it all done! Alas!

The cedars need trimming as well

Standing on a ladder . . . nude . . . arms stretched high with the jaws of loppers cutting through branches of the numerous cedar trees bordering my property is an exercise in discretion . . . as if I don't think about it enough I'd be exposed to neighboring yards and the street behind my home. Little is happening anyway . . . they're probably all up in the mountains enjoying the trails they tried to deny me last week. They are there . . . I am here, and I'm enjoying every moment of it. There is going to be a large amount of yard waste by my curb this coming Tuesday.

Now . . . what to do about cleaning out the pond and
seeing if any goldfish survived the winter

We've had a small pond in the backyard for years. When the water fountain is running the sound of tinkling water adds a nice touch to quiet introspective moments and family barbecues, alike. Water lilies and irises thrive in the pond and provide hiding places for the goldfish we restock every year. We restock because despite best attempts (netting, automated motion-detector water squirters, our dog, etc.) eagle-eyed blue herons (and a family of raccoons from a nearby tree) always decimate the population so that by the end of summer only a few goldfish have managed to survive. We once had some very nice koi until replacing the heron's colorful sushi meal got to be expensive. Now it's a trip to PetSmart once a year for a couple of baggies of feeder fish . . . 30-40 of them. Some will survive to grow big and fat and give pleasure to those who check out the pond.

But before I can do that the pond needs to be drained and cleaned of the fall and winter dump of leaves . . . and a sudden bloom of algae from all that decomposing organic waste. A major (and very dirty project) . . . one I keep putting off.

Naw, the goldfish can wait for another day. Time to relax.

Happy World Naked Gardening Day (plus 1)

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