Mother and Daughter Reunion in the Garden

Some gardens are wild, and grow wherever they want, like this nightshade.

Some need lots of prep, and then grow, if they want, like this nightshade.

Welcome to my new garden, Potato!

It won’t be long now!

Mom will take longer.

And she’ll kill you, the dear. Stick with the kids!

The (Post) Colonial Landscape

These plants have gone wild from a garden above them. Not one is native here. They are native to Eastern North America.p1270436

To survive in its illusion of seasons, White culture requires extensive plantings of this colour. It is taught in school, even. It is even called “fall colour.” It is the east in the west, really. This is history, written in a story of loss and longing, of the pain of separation and an attempt to heal it with physical gestures of care. Let’s praise that care.

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Let’s follow it.

Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.

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Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.

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Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.

 

 

 

 

Gardening is Just Too Hard

Even if you spend many thousands of dollars to cover most of your whole yard in black plastic tarp and to cover it in river gravel, there is no guarantee of success at beating global warming at its own game, public responsibility or beauty.P2000274

It’s just plain hard, that’s what it is. Instead of beautiful sterile gravel, picture perfect like in a Japanese monastery, you get a dry land sandbar being reclaimed by weeds.

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Even if you spend more money yet and do the whole driveway in asphalt …

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… or concrete …

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… those darn weeds ruin your artwork. How can you have a desert when stuff grows in it?

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Plant pots are no solution. Or decorative wells.

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That peat moss looses water like a sieve, although it does achieve desert status quickly…

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… yet somehow doesn’t quite look like the hills of South Africa like it’s supposed to. I know. I tried marigolds in an old wheelbarrow last year, which was fine until they all withered up, and then the wheelbarrow fell over. What a mess. Here’s a new idea for the transition from irrigated gardening to desert temple:

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The entrance arbour, pegged in with wooden shakes, and honoured with a couple of plastic funerary urns. You don’t need plants to climb the arbour, you don’t need a path, you don’t need gravel, you just need the gesture. Priorities, that’s the thing. In the old Canada, you might have painted the peeling stain on that house before the wood was completely shot, but in the new Canada, the one in transition to a responsible global paradise, there are no rules, and gardening is just plain hard. Why, in the old days you might have sat under your cherry tree and enjoyed its coolness, while you sipped some wine you made of last  year’s crop, but now the wind might blow over your chinese manufactured shade arbour, and then what? Use the wine carboy for decoration, perhaps, but somehow there’s a nagging je ne sais quoi about the whole thing.

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Canadians, you see, do what they’re told. And don’t do what they’re told. All at the same time. And there’s no predicting which it’s going to be, except for disobeying rational traffic rules, neglecting to wear life jackets, and throwing cigarette butts out the window in fire season. That’s predictable, but gardening, no, that’s just plain hard. Sometimes you just have to give up halfway. Those damn rocks are heavy, and they don’t come cheap! Saving the planet, that can’t just be on the shoulders of one person now, can it?

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And if you want to beautify things a bit, say, if you’re a professor of French literature, perhaps, living in farming country, why …

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… your flower stand gets to sit beside a farmer’s bin of junk plastic (to make the soil hotter than it is already) and junk irrigation piping (to deliver water more efficiently) and it all makes for a nice effect, but maybe not the intended one. Such is life in the age of steampunk, by which I mean the age in which gestures are cobbled together from every known source and applied as shakily as the spray from a can of paint on a wall, and with as little regard for context..

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In the city of Kelowna, the city pays to have any such spontaneous display of territory painted over in defence of private property rights and public safety.wall

As you can see above, human weeds are to be dealt with quickly, although not consistently. The vegetative ones not at all. Still, someday it will all look like the image below, in the alleys where Kelowna’s prostitutes hang out, waiting for men to wander over from the parking lot or the tourist street with its street bars and chic bistros …

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It is just freaking hard to inherit a country based on biology, rebellion and renewal and to turn it into expressions of  artistic and legal order. Humans are as bad as weeds.

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Still, sometimes you achieve perfection, with order and flowers, or at least one flower …

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Of course, one prostitute was waiting for custom on the wall facing this one. Hey, a girl needs flowers, doesn’t she?

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I have been reminded lately that to become a popular writer I need to write about people, not landscape. People love to read about other people. We live in a social universe. Yeah, they’re right.

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Unfortunately, it is built upon the earth, and biological history, and those things just won’t obey, darn it.

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They just won’t. Gardening is hard.

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Hans Holbein

Sheesh. We’ve gone from this human habitat …

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… to this one, with razor wire and open temptations …

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… in only 150 years. Sure, more law and order, that will do the trick.

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At the risk of sounding immature, might it be, just maybe, that money can’t buy happiness?

P1810542 And urban planning systems can’t buy gardens?P1790236 And that the image below is not a romantic, ruined, farm building but a social ruin, from the weed-sprayed bottom land, to prevent (sic) weeds from growing on it, to the weed-choked, unproductive grassland on the hill?P1810479

Remember that, next time you get attracted to an image of luxury built on water in the desert. (click)

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Or feel like you might like to romanticize it like this:

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You are the one being gardened, and that is hard work. It will take a lifetime to fit into your plot, but you’ll make it in the end. Don’t worry.

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Chief John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s Grave, Upper Keremeos

This was once the old Smlqmix village of 2000 people. Now it’s Keremeos, the haunt of 1330. Progress, folks!

Someone might knock the cross off, yeah, but the weeds will still be there, hiding the gravel bit just to the left and the highway just to the right. That’s comforting, right? For all of this, I have three words: context is all. It starts here:

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Kelowna

I think we’d better start getting serious, fast.

Weeds at Work

Say hi to Queen Anne’s Lace.P1990727

 

It is listed as a noxious weed. I mean, try grazing a cow in this pasture.

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Still, who defines these things? Not the lettuce plants that grow better in the cooling microclimate below these flowers. Not the tomatoes that are more productive beneath them. Not the carrots (a selected subspecies) and onions which grow with fewer pests because of the predatory wasps that come to pollinate these flowers. Certainly not the wasp (left) and ladybug (right) below.

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Maybe it’s not all about cows.

P1980883 Maybe? P1980867