Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dirt In The Dark, Seeds Galore, Old Fashioned Gardening, and "My People..."

This is not going to be a glamorous entry...

"Dirt In The Dark"

Well, you see, the thing is that I have been lightheaded all day, flitting about in a fit of joy over the big mound of topsoil, amended with compost and all manner of good things, that got dumped in my driveway today. Just imagine my utter glee at having my whole driveway taken up with dirt! No! I'm serious! I was delighted! I am such a little kid these days. MY house, MY garden, MY ship! MY DIRT!

It is lush and luscious and fairly crumbles in your hand like soft cake and I really wish you could see it. I tried taking numerous pictures but I forgot to go out and take them before dark. Well, you know, what with this and that, this pug and that pug, and going through piles of seeds, and dreaming a lot and a little, and beginning to plot the garden as this dirt will be moved to the pink-gated garden tomorrow morning, and, woe is me, there really isn't enough of the gorgeous dirt and it was too pricey anyway, so I have a wonderful gentleman coming out tomorrow morning to check the areas out and see how much more soil I need. As his dirt looks as gorgeous as this and he charges considerably less, I hope we strike up a grand relationship and I'll have my very own dirt man from here on out. There's a lot of gardening that needs to be done here. You need a good dirt man, yes you do.

Then, the seeds. Well, I order a lot of seeds from a lot of places, a lot of heirloom seeds, and my preference is to order from small family owned companies. For the last several years the bulk of my seeds have come from the most fabulous seller on eBay for bulk seeds that are CHEAP. I don't know how they do it, but they are Groco Seeds and see what was in this package that just came...

There are 77 (Count 'em, 77) packets of seeds in here and some have seeds in the thousands. And most of these packets were about 77 cents apiece. This way I can have an enormous variety to plant and to share (I plant rather like "The Whirling Dervish of Seeds," with huge cottage gardens my heart's desire.). Sharing seeds and plants is what I dream about. I'm an old fashioned gardener who missed her time and would like to see a resurgence of the time of the "Market Bulletins" and "Passalong Plants." These are my people. I long to know these kinds of people and start the old fashioned traditions again.

There are 2 books everyone should run out and buy if they are serious old-fashionedy type gardeners. I've mentioned them numerous times before and likely will continue to do so. First of all because they are fabulous, and secondly because my mind kind of wanders and I forget I already wrote about them 13 times (or maybe 77.).

The two books are:

Passalong Plants
by Steve Bender
and Felder Rushing


Gardening For Love:
The Market Bulletins

Elizabeth Lawrence

I have to have these books with me at all times and if I don't I panic and buy new copies. Well, new to me. Now that I can get them used on amazon or eBay I buy new/used copies and I just bought both of the above in the last weeks. Having just moved my copies are buried in a sea of boxes of books and it is GARDENING SEASON and there's no way I would start without Steve, Felder, and especially Elizabeth.

Before I go any further, so as not to forget, what with my mind going hither and yon these days, I have to mention the one seed catalog I will never be without, and while it is now online, I get the paper catalog each year and read and study it like I'm about to get two simultaneous PhD's in Horticulture and Botany which I will study for the rest of my days, a little loosey goosey at times, but still in all as serious as I can be and with great enthusiasm! The catalog is J.L. Hudson, Seedsman. On the front of the catalog as well as the website you will read this:

"We are a public access seed bank - not a commercial seed company. You will find that our presentation of information and how you access our seedbank is a bit different from ordering seeds from the usual on-line commercial enterprise.

Our purpose is the preservation of botanical biodiversity, the propagation and dissemination of rare, threatened and endangered plants, research into the biology of seeds, and the preservation of vanishing knowledge of the uses of plants - called "ethnobotany" or "ethnobotanical knowledge". To this end, we propagate and distribute rare seeds from every continent; native plants from around the world, including flowers, vines, trees, cacti, culinary herbs, heirloom vegetables, ornamentals, hardy perennials, medicinal plants, and tropicals. We also distribute many unusual books about edible plants, medicinal plants, American Indian, Australian, and African ethnobotany, books on seed saving, source lists, and more.

The catalog is encyclopedic in scope, you will find thousands of things here you've either never heard of or searched for forever, never thinking you'd actually find it. I spend hours reading this catalog. You will find the online catalog by clicking the above link, but truly, if you are a serious gardener, order the paper catalog and prepare yourself to swoon!

Now back to Steve, Felder and Elizabeth. I happened upon the book Passalong Plants by Felder and Rushing because I read about it somewhere eons ago and instantly fell in love with it. I read garden books like other people read novels, and this book is my all time favorite garden book EVER. It is so funny your sides will hurt from laughing at their outrageous stories, you will learn an incredible lot that you never even knew you needed to know, and if you are a Southern gardener, you will be treated to the touching stories of passalong plants, a long time tradition in the south. In fact, in the south we have plants that have disappeared elsewhere, simply because the tradition of passing along seeds and cuttings from neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, and family to family over the years has kept these plants growing and in circulation in the south. Now these plants are being cultivated in other areas because our old grannies and Aunt Nellies and Mrs. Joneses down the street saved seeds and cuttings and shared them.

Which brings me to my beloved (and countless other gardener's beloved) Elizabeth Lawrence. Deemed "The Garden Maven of the South" Lawrence wrote a great many books on gardening. One she didn't finish before she died, and the great garden writer, Allen Lacy, whom I also love, ended up with the enormous task of taking on the job of putting "The Market Bulletins" together from a huge box of manuscript, letters, correspondence Elizabeth had through decades, and much more. You see, once upon a time there was a day when...

Imagine being a farm wife in war times or other hard times when to get a little money for yourself you sold things from your garden or farm. Seeds, plants, cuttings, fresh eggs, vegetables and so much more. At that time each state put out "Market Bulletins" and you could put a little ad in there for what you had to sell or trade and what you were looking for. More than seeds and plants were exchanged, friendships were made that lasted for lifetimes. Those were the days of letter-writing (sigh), not e-mail. I feel grief-stricken not to have experienced this, and I would dearly love to get it going again, but it's such a big commercial world out there with so many people selling so many things and nobody to speak of writing real letters anymore. (I imagine myself to be one of the last great letter-writers, and much to my embarrassment wrote diatribes in a publication I produced from the early to mid 90's called "The Contemplative Way: Slowing Down In A Modern World," to the effect that I would NEVER go the way so many were going and fall prey to the internet and E-MAIL. Well, just look what happened to me. I can't remember when I last wrote a letter, and not the kind filled with love and seeds and a bit of this and that like I used to in days gone by. But I would dearly love to see that turn around.)

And so here I am with my very own dirt, if I can call it that, although I'm fully aware that I don't own dirt or anything else that is part of Mother Earth, even if I have to buy the right kind of soil to get started gardening here. Gracious! I can start a compost pile again here this year! And just imagine! Manure tea! I have a friend who is a soil scientist. Imagine that! A soil scientist! I just wish she could see my dirt! (Hi Sue!)

At 55, with my new little house, the magical world I am creating outside, many gardens in the planning and making and pugs here, there, and everywhere, I find myself, today, more excited about the pile of dirt in my driveway and the huge package of packets of seeds here than if someone put a bucket of money in my lap. This is real. This dirt, these seeds, the flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits to come (not to mention a whole lot of odd, artsy, and wonderful things out there into the mix).

There is a wonderful piece of a poem that I don't remember that keeps coming back to me these days. I read it in one of my beloved May Sarton books, and she was quoting it from someone else. I shall try to find out the author and share the whole poem, or if anyone knows it, please write in here and tell me. The lines are...

"Be they near, or be they far,
would I where my people are."

I think in finding this place and beginning the long journey of turning this whole place into a series of gardens, one of the most important things that I will cherish will be the people I meet along the way. The last few years I have even struck up friendships with some backyard gardeners who raise a little of this or that and sell some seeds or cuttings on eBay, "Seed money" I'm sure that goes back into their gardens by buying other plants or seeds that they need. I have purchased plants or seeds from some of these women or men who have sent dear letters with carefully packaged seeds or cuttings, and I have relished each one.

I hope you are growing a garden, wherever you are. You can grow a little garden in pots on a porch in an apartment 10 stories up. The only limits to gardening are those you put on yourself. Start the adventure, and if you can think of a way to help revive the old Market Bulletins way of communicating, why, blogging seems a good way to me to do just that. What do you have to share from your garden, or sell, or trade? Soon I'll have some things to share from mine. Many of this year's seeds are going to friends and family. This is one tradition I won't see die in my lifetime.

Never underestimate dirt. It's the root of everything on the planet. You wouldn't have a bite to eat without it.

I am having a love affair with dirt...

Maitri, simply dazzled by it all...


Harry Seenthing said...

gardening is amazing, hopefully you can get success in gardening

imelda said...

i love gardening but i have no time for now. first time for me to be here. glad to meet you.

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