Tag Archives: Photography

Eco-Saturday: Darwin gardening

darwin8

In the Southwest, xeriscaping is popular, as it involves planting only native and/or drought-tolerant species in your garden so you don’t end up draining every aquifer west of Amarillo in a misguided effort to keep some delicate green thing alive.

Here in the Midwest, I practice a variant I developed by accident, which I call “Darwin gardening.”

Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.
Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.

The original Darwin Garden was located in our backyard in Belleville, Illinois, and it happened by accident: I started with a neat garden divided into four-foot squares delineated with old bricks I’d found in the garage, with neat mulched paths between them, and by the time we left, my laziness and absolute refusal to coddle weak plants left me with an unruly but outrageously productive tangle of perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals that included echinacea, parsley, Roman chamomile, chives, dill, sage, spinach, cilantro, mint, marjoram, oregano, carrots, blackberries, and waist-high collards that thought they were perennials.

The Darwin Garden wasn’t neatly manicured, but it was healthy, low-maintenance, and completely organic. When you let natural selection dictate your landscaping design, you don’t need pesticides, heavy watering or other environmentally questionable practices to keep your garden thriving. You also don’t need huge blocks of time to take care of your garden, because your plants will be sturdy enough to survive without constant coddling.

Arugula -- a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt -- has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.
Arugula — a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt — has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.

We have a similar garden here. When we moved in last year, I planted a small garden, watered it occasionally, and otherwise ignored it, knowing the fastest way to find out which plants were suited to the local growing conditions was to neglect them and see whether they survived.

That's not a yellow Easter egg. It's an overripe cucumber I'm leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.
That’s not a yellow Easter egg. It’s an overripe cucumber I’m leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.

A year into that experiment, I’ve got sage, strawberries, mint, basil and Shasta daisies that came up with no help from me, and next year’s arugula and cucumbers have already planted themselves.

Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I've had any luck growing it.
Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I’ve had any luck growing it.

If you’re a little bit concerned about the environment and a lot lazy, consider planting your own Darwin Garden. If you can tolerate the frustrations of that first year, you’ll find it pays big dividends in subsequent seasons.

Emily

Fall

Gratuitous lavender photo. Every time I think it's done blooming, it puts out another blossom or two.
Gratuitous lavender photo. Every time I think it’s done blooming, it puts out another blossom or two.

I spent part of today working on my pond filter and starting a few small indoor projects, including some sprouts and a worm bin.

While I was outside, I took a few pictures of the garden in its more-or-less dormant state. Fall and winter always make me sad, because I hate saying goodbye to the garden, but I’ve got a few projects planned out there for this winter, and I think we’ll be in good shape come spring.

These fire rings will spend the winter serving as compost bins before turning into raised beds in the spring.
These fire rings will spend the winter serving as compost bins before becoming raised beds next season.

So far, I’ve bought four 36-inch fire rings to use as compost bins this winter, with the intention of planting directly into the compost this spring to make incredibly rich, easy-to-manage raised beds for my tomatoes.

This pond has come SO far in the past year. It sheltered at least two rounds of tadpoles this summer.
This pond has come SO far in the past year. It sheltered at least two rounds of tadpoles this summer.

That pond filter I built out of an ice-cream bucket looks as if it’s going to work pretty well. Time will tell, of course, but so far, it seems to be working. I’ll have a tutorial for you in an upcoming Eco-Saturday entry. The picture above delights me; I can’t believe how big that lemon balm has gotten. The oregano, meanwhile, apparently thinks it’s an aquatic plant — I found some of it growing roots right down into the water. Leave it to a mint to be audacious enough to try to compete with water hyacinths on their own turf.

The arugula I allowed to bolt this summer has scattered seeds all over the small bed in the center of the yard and halfway across the yard around it, so I’ve got salad growing all over the place without having to do any late-season planting. The sage and chives are still hanging in there, too, although my Genovese basil succumbed to the light frost we had the other night. I’ll have an Eco-Saturday entry on Darwin gardening sometime in the next month or so. If you’re willing to let Mother Nature run the show, you can have a remarkably productive garden with virtually no effort.

Hope your day was good, wherever you are.

Emily

Vacation recap

We just got back Monday evening from a much-needed vacation, and I’ve been covering a murder trial all week, so I just got a hand free to start Photoshopping some images.

We left as soon as we finished up at the copy desk in the wee hours of the morning Aug. 10 and drove straight through to Tucumcari, because I hadn’t been out there in 20 months, hadn’t had a proper vacation in two years, and simply could not be bothered with such niceties as sleep until I got a lungful of high desert air.

We’d been on the road somewhere around 12 hours when we rolled through Erick, Okla., on Route 66 and passed a familiar rust-covered sign standing sentinel over a pasture near Texola:

texolasign
I’ve always loved this sign between Erick and Texola, Okla.

At Vega, Texas, I insisted on stopping for a photo op with the mascot for Rooster’s Mexican restaurant. If you’re a fan of The Bloggess, you know why this was important.

Knock-knock. Vega, Texas.
Knock-knock.

As soon as we reached New Mexico, I insisted on stopping at Russell’s Travel Center in Endee so I could pick up one of their awesome green chile burritos before we went on to Tucumcari. Do I even have to tell you where we stayed?

Home.
Home.

Despite having been up for 38 hours — and on the road for a good 18 of them — I woke up at 6:30 the next morning, feeling more refreshed than I had at any point in the past two years. Once Ron got up, we loaded the car, grabbed breakfast at Kix on 66 (green chile breakfast burrito) and headed for Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa, N.M. Practicing Bob Dylan covers on a crappy student guitar I picked up for $80 at Hastings.
Santa Rosa, N.M. Photo by Ron.

We visited the Rudolfo Anaya monument, where I sat under a tree, quietly playing Bob Dylan covers and singing to myself. We also wandered down the park trail, trying out the outdoor exercise equipment the city has put in since my last visit. (I was, of course, inspired to add “build outdoor gym in backyard” to my to-do list for my next creative outburst.) After Santa Rosa, we took the old alignment of 66 up to Santa Fe, making a short detour to Las Vegas, N.M., to see Allan Affeldt’s latest project — an old Harvey House called La Castaneda that he recently acquired and plans to restore. We spent some time poking around the interesting little shops downtown, which I highly recommend.

La Castaneda.
La Castaneda.

We got an order of green chile cheese fries — which I’d been craving for two solid years — at El Parasol in Santa Fe before heading to Albuquerque, where I broke my green chile streak with a trip to the Dog House for a (red) chili dog. We stayed at the Monterey Non-Smokers’ Motel, which was comfortable as always, and grabbed green chile breakfast burritos at the Frontier Restaurant before heading out of town.

Owl Rock, west of Albuquerque, N.M.
Owl Rock, west of Albuquerque, N.M.

In Gallup, we went to Aurelia’s Diner, where I consumed what might be the greatest thing ever invented: a “green parfait,” which is a parfait glass full of mashed potatoes layered with green chile stew and topped with shredded cheddar. GLORY.

We’ll pick up this saga there tomorrow, assuming I can shake free to work up a few more photos. I’ve got tons of images from Amboy Crater to share.

Emily