Gardening is not only
productive in terms of yield,
but also meets human
needs for expression,
exercise, social connection,
purpose, and leisure.
The gardening tips are delivered in such a delightful and good humored way, the reader (green-thumb or not) discovers the joys and abundance to be had, along with the trials and climatic challenges of a region visited by hail and drought. Throw in a little Zen-like humor, and a good-dose of other spiritual insights and this book will have you back out in the garden. ~ Earth Literacy Journal
From Fulcrum Publishing:
Drawing from his own considerable gardening experience and expertise, as well as leaning on 500 years of collective wisdom from the people he calls “The Zen Masters of the Western Garden,” David Wann gathers a mix of stories, how-to advice and simple, doable projects that are ideal for gardeners in the high and arid landscapes of the West. The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West is a friendly and invaluable guide to such topics as strategic gardening (how to grow salsa or pesto from scratch), pest-proof planting (he playfully advises using a photograph of his face to deter the bugs), choosing the right varieties of edibles for the region (he’s bullish on Sungold cherry tomatoes), how to become a seed-starting maniac using a Farmer’s Almanac approach to gardening (plant peas when the first cottonwood leaves appear!), as well as profiles of colorful local gardens and gardeners.
Wann offers inspiration and invaluable practical advice for success in the garden. He shows how gardening can offer “a Zen exercise in mindfulness, discipline, and the joy of being right in the moment.”
When it comes to gardening in the Great Plains and mountains, the first step is to deal with the cruelties of geography. There’s an invisible line that separates gardeners of the high, arid west from eastern gardeners. Known in geography jargon as the 100th meridian, it cuts the layer cake of Kansas and Nebraska in half, roughly separating the primordial short grass prairie — where rainfall is typically a distant memory — from the tall grass prairie, where gardens are essentially automatic.
East of The Line, farmers grow corn, a tall grass, and west of The Line, they grow wheat, a short grass, if they’re lucky. Okay, okay, I may be exaggerating a little here, but it’s indisputable that on topographical maps, east is green and the arid west is brown. From an airplane in mid-summer, it’s the same two-toned story, unless you happen to fly over a brief blush of green at the foot of the Rockies right after a three-day, flood-thirsty monsoon. So we’re talking biology and meteorology here, not just hearsay. Scientific fact, not just precipitation envy.
We gardeners of the high plains and mountains are meteorologically and topographically challenged, that’s the long and short of it. “The wildest weather on the planet,” western landscape expert Jim Knopf calls the front (easternmost) range of Colorado. “Arctic fronts collide with tropical air masses here, creating an ever-changing house of horrors.”
About 150 years ago, U.S. officials inscribed a box over 100,000 square miles of the territory I currently live in, and named it Colorado. Average elevation, 6,800 feet. Average precipitation, about 15 inches, including the most frequent hailstorms in the U.S. Average organic content of native soil, less than half a percent. They concluded it was futile to try growing anything in this box, shaking their heads sympathetically. (Eventually, of course, they inscribed “no grow” boxes over most of the Sunbelt, mountain and high plains landscape.) In 1805, Lewis and Clark reported to Jefferson and colleagues back east that it took undaunted courage to even set foot west of The Line.
Another easterner with a long historical shadow, Civil War hero and explorer John Wesley Powell, went so far as to pronounce the west largely unfit for human habitation. Fortunately, we’ve proven him wrong, haven’t we? Here we stand, shell-shocked grins on our faces, dinged-up shovels in our hands, and feet firmly planted on barren, rocky soil!
The question is, are we heroic or pitiful?
Well, either way, here we come! When hailstones the size of river rock shred the lettuce a few hours before a dinner party, our first inclination may be to throw childish tantrums and vow never ever to garden again, but instead we lace up our boots and get out the seeds.
In the garden, life’s struggles, snags and snafus decompose into rich, black earth. Idiotic interest rates, nagging bills, and the slow-motion speed of bureaucracy may be out of my immediate control, but in the garden, I see and feel things happening – things that are real, not just white-knuckle policies and commercial blabber. As I plant seedlings or hoe a sturdy crop of basil, none of “the operators are currently busy helping other customers.” The operators (bees, worms, and ladybugs) are all busy helping me, and they never put me on hold, either, because we’re all in it together. What’s in my best interest is also in their best interest.
In the garden I can touch, smell, see, and taste where I live. I know about Golden, Colorado partly by making horticultural deals with it. I learn what it can provide, and what I can coax from it, as my knowledge and skill continue to expand. In the garden, life and death dance before my eyes every day, and I come to a better understanding of my own health and mortality. The garden literally brings me back to my senses.
Panning for Garlic: a Western Gem
Imagine it – a garden crop that’s unappealing to pests, including leaf-eating bugs, deer, rabbits, and most viruses. A crop that stores for at least half a year, is useful in many different kinds of cooking, and is great for your health. Sounds like a fantasy? Wait, we’re not even through yet. Imagine a crop that also grows dependably in western soils and climates, and that– believe it or not—sometimes grows right through the snow, cold, and darkness of winter. Garlic!
Seeing me bent over a freshly dug garden row in the fall, with a bowl of garlic cloves ready to be planted, neighbors might take me for a prospector who’d lost his way. And in a sense, they’d be right. While it may be an exaggeration to say that homegrown garlic is worth its weight in gold, it’s definitely a western gem — one of those few, precious crops that’s well worth the effort.
My success with garlic began just a few years ago. I’d always heard it was easy to grow, but a few past experiments with it hadn’t worked. Maybe I planted the cloves too deeply, or maybe they’d gotten waterlogged in the spring. Whatever the cause, my bulbs were miniature, in perfect scale with elf recipes. Then a friend and I rented a cabin outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where Angelo, the proprietor, loves to grow a type of garlic called Rocambole. He gave me a sack full of garlic cloves that had been drying on his workbench, and told me a few of his secrets.
“With loamy, well-drained soil and enough water,” he told me, “you can’t miss.” Maybe as a result of his Italian heritage, Angelo likes garlic so much that he presses it and spreads it on homemade bread, all by itself. I’d have to say, for an 80 year-old, he’s pretty lively – is it the garlic? Research indicates that in addition to keeping vampires at bay, garlic lowers cholesterol, helps prevent cancer, and lowers blood sugar. I confess I sometimes crunch a clove or two before bed, if it feels like unwelcome bacterial visitors have landed. This last-ditch remedy usually works, and I recently found out why. Garlic contains allicin, a powerful natural antibiotic that kills bacteria like staph, strep, and e. Coli.
After seeing Angelo’s great results, I went home and double-dug some beds for the seed-cloves he’d given me – two beds that were each about 18 square feet. I dug in some black, loamy compost and about two pounds of rock phosphate, and on the same day that I planted tulip bulbs –about mid-October — I pushed 50 or 60 cloves 3 to 4 inches into the soil, spaced four inches apart, incanting Angelo’s name as I watered them. The following June, I harvested two buckets of garlic bulbs that made the supermarket’s look shriveled and wimpy. I’m told that supermarket garlic also has a much shorter shelf life than homegrown, because shipment time and refrigeration speeds spoilage.
I traveled all the way to Dixon, New Mexico to talk with Stanley Crawford, author of The Garlic Testament. Because the guidebooks didn’t have the right information, Crawford had to discover by experimentation that the proper time to plant garlic in the arid west is late fall. He noticed that leftover bulbs from the previous year’s crop sprouted early in the spring, and so he began planting in October. “At my altitude,” he says, “garlic will spend most of its life under the ground, a good nine months of the year, and if the bulbs had their way they wouldn’t come up for air at all.” We tend to think that the mission of garlic, or any crop, is to come to our tables, when really its mission is just to grow.