The Gardener’s Mind

By “Green” Gene Sottosanto

The most vital aspect of positive art, easily overlooked in the commercial pursuit, is that it enhances life with functional purpose and integrity. In a practical sense, though all may be called art, the most valuable form is in that of the home garden. The benefits of abundant life can hardly be overstated. An intelligent gardener, with worthy basic premise, starts from the windowsills and doors of home, and with ever-increasing order and diversification, enhances the value of space, light, water, even time and all dead or living materials. We are to encourage abundant life and every choice makes a difference.

          Being in one’s garden, it is easy to forget the world’s problems, and even to naively wonder – “Why can’t everyone just enjoy nature and be happy?” The pleasure to our senses offers intrigue and joy, that is improved by effort, and sharing of this critical creative outlet. If we live in an apartment, we might only grow sprouts on the windowsill and perhaps hike in the hills, but we are healthier the more we partake with the living and life giving elements, including that of dirt.

         An excessively formal style represents man over-controlling, yet removed from his environment, hurting rather than helping the living realm. Routine gardening is generally void of benefit or improvement, but tends to perceived deterioration with actual deterioration. In a busy fabricated world that caters to ignorance and unnecessary hostility towards life, it is always a relief and a pleasure to be immersed in a diverse natural setting.

          Working with, rather than in spite of our environment, quality of life increases for all while values and choices change. Dawn at home and visiting other gardens and gardeners is favored over staying too late at the bar or T.V. Fresh produce is chosen over unripe, packaged and processed food. Stretching and exercising in a garden is favored over  “working out” in the club. Cars are used less for visits to the store, club, even doctor, weekend trips, entertainment and income. Proverbs 24:27 advises: “First get everything ready out of doors, then build your house and home.”

          Every garden can improve and fulfill, and every subtle improvement offers further gratification. Following the ways of a true gardener’s mentality, the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, become four with Restore and enjoy more. When getting into town, many distractions may be found, yet nature does abound. Enjoy life on Earth, rebirth, and mirth. Basic premise and time, and nature are sublime!

          The true gardener is blessed with many surprises – vistas of beauty, moments of joy, lessons, and serenity. These garden gifts demonstrate wondrously the basic premise often missed – that ecology and economy are linked inextricably. It is logical to be eco-logical! Regarding a commercial point of view, a gardener does not “work for a living” – but for the living. The value of fulfillment is priceless.

A Tribute for Nimzy the Goat  (1995)

“Nimzy” the local goat has been entertaining the town for what, to some, might seem like a long time. It was a year ago last Easter week that “Nimz” was brought to Laguna. He has since brought many smiles.

{The following tribute is written mostly in the present tense as it was mostly written before Nimzy’s death. Nimzy’s absence may be replaced by another goat we’ll call Nimby (not in my backyard) Nimzy died 12:25 am Friday July 17th ‘95. He was quietly buried at dawn.}

Have you ever heard of a one-goat herd? It’s not profitable, but Nimz is many animals in one. At first sight , some think he’s a dog. The advantages are: You don’t need to buy food; he doesn’t bark; he stays outdoors; he doesn’t attract fleas; his chocolate nuggets do not smell offensively and are useful; he doesn’t dig in the garden or chase other animals; the dear like him; and he offers interesting forms of play and affection. His back and legs are exceptionally strong for pulling kids on roller blades and land toboggan and even for riding bareback a bit.  Rather than a dog,  he is more like a cat in his independent ways.  He’s more like a monkey when he jumps up on the railing, fence or other inappropriate situation as he is quite mischievous. He’s part mule or donkey when he resists, and he can be very stubborn! He can carry a pack. He is also part bull or ram when he paws the dirt and butts. He’s similar to a llama or deer with his hooves, and he puts elbows down first rather than sitting. He looks like a bear when he stands on his back feet, either showing his front paws in a fighting stance or his stubby posterior and tail – “He can be a real bear”  Nimzy’s very favorite food is bird seed. Yet he loves pigging out of the bucket of restaurant waste we recycle and wow can he eat!  Nimzy’s especially like a kid – he can demand a lot of attention and require a good bit of patience and understanding.

Nimz knows and usually listens to at least two commands. They are “get in” and “get down” Get in generally refers to getting in the back of a truck. “Get down” means settle down or stop,  requiring Nimz to put elbows on the ground.

A stern “get outta there” with a finger pointed in the direction he should go usually gets results. He prefers to stay within sight.

            Nimz and I do get to travel in a very nice town with many very wonderful people and for that we are very grateful. Nimzy especially likes crowds of little people but he will knock them down in play. He also dances and prances in very unique ways such as running sideways, twisting back and forth, or jumping in the air kicking all four heels together.  On a slight downhill slant, doing a complete 360 degree turn in the air is possible. Nimzy can be extremely cute, it seems, as I hear it all the time.

            Many think “Green Gene” plants it and Nimzy eats it. Actually he does do a little trimming now and then. (I try not to let him do the roses).  He creates good fertilizer and does a good bit of weed and litter patrol – all kinds of litter. He’ll pick dried chewing gum from the ground, consume paper, plastic, and even a few cigarette butts.

            Speaking of butts – not since my son’s stunning head-butting in soccer have I seen a better head butter!  The de-horned animal especially likes going after kids, but frequently he’ll surprise an adult with a little shove behind the knee or a little dive at the ankles. (He’s only playing). He’s been known to go after dogs of many sizes. Sometimes – with dogs – he’s playing, or he wants to be left alone. A pit bull once lunged at first sight and took half of Nimzys ear.

            Nimzy likes going up – even on cars if they’re under a tasty tree and/or give shade and safety.  We went to court once. It was going to be three nearly full days to plead innocent to a “Goat at large” ticket. When the ticket was written, Nimzy had been right at my side after being tied up on the beach while I was in the water. It was the day before, when he was loose in my rather rural neighborhood, for which we were issued a warning. I decided it was relative and took a rap that put me on probation.

The very next day I worked on a job that was at the first place to pull in next to the Coast Highway on Nyes Place. Nimzy’s favorite plant on the premises was right next to the street, and sure enough I wasn’t with it (just that day). Nimz got out. There were no cars for a bit, but I couldn’t get an angle on the somewhat unlearned and skittish critter. Soon he was running between rows of cars on Coast Highway! Very fortunately, the many drivers that arrived handled it magnificently. People slowed and stopped without screeching or blasting. About three people even stepped out to help me corner the scared and confused animal. One wonderful woman, I wish I knew and could thank better, was able to stop Nimzy. I took him in my arms and quickly got my embarrassed self out of there – jumping over the guard rail, running through the bushes and back to the enclosed hidden area.  Nimzy is one entertaining animal, but we do apologize for some of his antics that may offend.

            Perhaps that wonderful woman who stopped Nimz on the highway could share profits from a video we submit to America’s Funniest Home Videos. There are quite a few outrageous behaviors that Nimzy is capable of.

            Since our home is built into the hillside and has a flat roof, it is nothing for Nimzy to be caught on the roof and then, after being chased, to jump down to a parked car or even all the way to the ground! It is also hilarious when he pulls and jumps frantically to get away from the noisy plastic toboggan he is dragging behind him! What do you think would happen if I left the front door open for him? My son knows his ticklish spot and the ensuing ride he gets on his roller blades is just a bit too risky to be done regularly.  Nimzy is a “riot!” (but I don’t think we’ll re-enact the highway scene.)

An Abundant Garden

We often work and save up for the day that we hope to get away and enjoy the land more. This dream to live homestead style on a better piece of land will start to come true if we derive the most use from any pleasant outdoor realms that are presently available to us. Most of us live on a less than ideal piece of land, yet it is normally possible to make our homes’ outdoor realm more abundant, beautiful, and enjoyable. True for some of us, theamazing quure may not be much more than a few plants on the windowsill that will enhance the benefits of nature at our home, but often much more is attainable. If we learn to use what we are given most effectively, we will be more prepared when our provision is increased. We will also discover that what we have is much more appreciated. In the artistic town of Laguna Beach, California, an average sized garden of much multiplicity in usage is replete with numerous detailed nooks and crannies. It took about a 15 dollar cash expenditure, spare time, plenty of recycling, a good working slate, and a determination to enjoy all that was provided. “Being logically ecological is economical and really pays off” according to this gardens’ creator. Let’s take a walk. Entry begins on a path of many different mixed bricks fit together. Off to the side, delicate florist fern climbs bamboo poles that reach into a carefully pruned, but contorted and self-grafting pittosporum archway. Careful pruning allows plenty of dappled light to filter through, thus encouraging other plants to grow below. Bird nests are viewed in the limbs above. A bell devised from a tractor disk and steel knocker hangs waiting to be clanged before fully entering this private garden. After the archway, intimate contact with a plant gateway is required to brush aside a few flexible branches. One enters a short maze of bamboo, jasmine, purple plum, and climbing geraniums (A wide copper wire around the bamboo may be pulled tight to increase the entry opening). We are invited by a slightly sloping dry streambed with large flat rock to walk upon. Large-leafed plants and lacy foliage along with juicy succulents, moss and driftwood accompany flowering plants such as Cymbidium, Clivia, Camelia, lily turf, Ajuga, Impatiens and more. A wet moist feeling pervades throughout the setting with smooth boulders, pebbles, sea fossils, and scallop shelled waterfalls cascading into delightful abalone pools from which doves and other birds drink and bathe. Many of the driftwood pieces actually look like animals or animal houses. We encounter hummingbirds darting by, as one of their favorite flowers (especially Tecomaria) is always blooming near. Before arrival on a spacious deck, we pass a pooling area where the stream we are traversing makes a turn.

It disappears about 12 feet away under a low opening in a plant wall of a different type of honeysuckle and a berry laden ivy climbing Ligustrum with still more berries for feasting birds. The “wall” keeps private a special part of the garden and intrigues one as to what is beyond. This secret spot on the hidden side of the “berry barrier” is not soon discovered since so much else catches the eye. A visitor looking back towards the direction of arrival is enticed to sit in a wicker chair in vantage position for gazing. Looking back across the stream, below the entry and above the barrier, more flat rocks casually lead one through intricate planting and by a small pond to a well-kept fowl pen and compost area. Birds lay their eggs in a cozy hidden cubbyhole where daily retrieving hands can reach without having to climb into the coop. Two hens or even a duck are seen, especially when escaping to or from their roosting spot at the edge of the deck and up a movable ladder where a perch is safely attached above the dartboard! Continuing the effect of tropical privacy, and still beckoning us as to what is beyond, bamboo poles partially screen in the deck. An upper deck gives cover to aid the function of an outdoor room ample enough to accomodate a ping-pong table, couch, swinging wicker chair and shelves. At the further end of this room where chimes are hung is a step down into an open area. Uniquely potted plants, terrariums, detailed miniature landscapes, and objects of nature fill the flat rails and are grouped near a picnic table and other sitting areas. Another short couch is under the protection of an overhang. A large belly high bucket of goldfish has water dripping into it from a hidden source above. Often satisfied by the security and many details here, we must be coaxed to enter another short stairway down into the center of the garden. This entry is next to a full and lively terraced succulent section. Many colorful and unusual varieties are arrayed. Included here are the useful Aloe vera and species that attract hummingbirds. The section along the lowest stair dangles succulent strawberrys. Bricks, sections of tree trunks, large rocks and various lenths of wood are blended for terraces and borders that give this garden an orderly, yet down-to-earth appearance. These areas are established for the growing of vegetables and herbs. A tall small eucalyptus tree, through somewhat competitive for food, water, and sunlight is a fun challenge to climb straight up and needs to be tamed as much as possible. The leaves and flowers of the sweet smelling citriodora seem to keep bugs down, but the bees sure enjoy it. It is a perch, a lookout, and a distant marker. A good spot for nature lovers hidden by the previously noticed ivy/honeysuckle barrier is at the north end of the garden. Just beyond the fig, persimmon and nectarine trees, space opens up for plantings of bulbs and flowers near a grassy meadow ideal for sprawling on. Another pond filled by the stream from above contains at least four species of water plants, fish and tadpoles in season. Birds as well as people enjoy the sound of trickling water. The birds may be fed more abundant berries from pyracantha and cotoneaster,and seed may feed from sunflower or fennel. One of fennels other many uses is providing for the caterpillars of swallowtail butterfly. In spring, nesting materials are provided. In this same area, against the vine wall and past a fat strand of vine strong enough for a child to swing on, there is a cozy swinging love seat with graffiti on it that quotes proverbs 24:27. “Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field, and afterwards build your house”. It also reads”2LUVLIF”, “GOD HELP US TO REPAIR THE EARTH”, “LUV LIFE IN A GARDEN”, MAKE LUV IN A GARDEN” etc. Immediately adjacent to this dreamy spot is a secluded wooden platform below a hammock. There are extra mats, blankets and pillows. Peering through a screen of passion fruit vines, we notice a honey-producing beehive. Bananas will soon be drooping fruit over the bamboo fencing. Gardenia and ginger provide delightful scents. Tearing ourselves from this pleasant location, we may make it to the lower central part of the yard where a fire pit is located. A strip along the lower central path represents a desert scene. Bones and broken ceramics lay scattered on volcanic rock around antique rusty implements and of course cacti. Hot rocks may be taken from the fire, carried to the other side of the yard through a plant tunnel, and into a Indian style sauna, which is hidden on the other side of the decks railing. Few will find the sauna unless shown its location. Below this hidden area, a grassy island mound bathes in the middle of excessive runoff from the neighbor’s abundant watering or rain. Another hammock is hung here as well. Down in the lowest corner of this labyrinth, two 4-step staircases are set for the plants being nursed or propagated and aquariums being used for miniature greenhouses. Close positioning of the plants conceal any plastic containers and the steps. Mirrors that provide extra dimension, light and sometimes simulation of water are strategically placed in the garden. On the opposite side of the house from the entrance is a secret exit. It goes past the neighbors opulent tropical garden and under the fallen fence from above, which is covered by vines overhanging a ramp floor. A huge plaster hand holds shallow crocks of water and maidenhair ferns at the top of yet another narrow streambed going along the property line to the pools near the hammock. Countless details create an endless feeling in this average size garden of 2700 square feet. The garden’s caretaker says, “Every garden can be improved upon and added to, including this one”. This rented home garden represents work, hobby, play, creative outlet, sanctuary, discipline and philosophy. Utilizing our outdoor space to fullest advantage establishes a greater richness in our lives.

Container Gardening Tips

Container gardening offers distinct advantages. Paved areas such as your patio or entry can be beautified with an addition of living art. If plants in your container lose seasonal appeal, or need to have their exposure to sun changed, they can be moved to a better location. There are as many different containers and ways to use them as there are ideas conceived and plants available. An old shoe with a cutting from the neighbors ov a nong quuerflowing succulent or an individually handcrafted and finely fired pot with a rare fruit tree may be chosen. Many books have been written on the subject. Despite so many possibilities, there are a few methods and some basic understanding that simplify success. It is best to use a handful of loose material like broken crockery over the holes in the bottom of pots to aid drainage. Raising pots above the ground with spacers or feet helps drainage and prevents wood decks from rotting. In very rare and carefully tended situations, a plant may survive in a container without holes (such as a glass terrarium with a bed of charcoal). The right soil mix may be derived from various sources. A good place to look is under old trees where leaves have decomposed for many years. Fresh green leaves, fallen flowers, coffee grounds, and other fresh organic material can be added in moderate amounts for free nutrients, better drainage and/or improved water holding soil texture. Packaged mixes generally have a lighter-weight mix of sterile soil and are convenient and helpful especially for a top layer free of weed seeds. These commercial products are not necessarily better than the soil in your garden or compost. The need to feed varies according to soil and plants used. Many fine specimens are grown in small containers, however smaller outdoor containers dry out easily, especially when they are of unglazed clay exposed to sun and wind. They can be kept watered if regularly attended to, but when soil becomes dry, it becomes more impervious to water. The easiest way to check water content of your pots, especially plastic ones is by checking their weight. Dry lightweight containers should be picked up and submerged for a penetrating soak that will last. Filling a bucket or basin with water from the hose is an easy way to start the soaking process. An easier and even better way to do it is using captured rainwater or untreated pond water. A good compromise is to use water that has set for a while. Compost tea or soil soup made by soaking a sock full of finished compost or earthworm castings in a bucket of water is a most ideal solution to soak your plants in. Let the filled sock sit in a bucket of water for at least a full day if you can wait. Submerge potted plants carefully so that the light soil does not float up. It helps to put a rock, brick or another plant on top to hold it down. When bubbles stop rising, the soak is finished. The plant will now be happier and will accept future water more easily. A layer of soaked sphagnum moss on top of the soil or any other form of a mulch layer helps keep the soil moist. A pot full of pretty flowers is more apt to dry out than many other choices. Try something different. Perhaps a mixed variety of succulents in a shallow terracotta pot may be placed on a wrought iron stand or as a centerpiece on an outside table. Succulents are interesting the year around and they are versatile with weather conditions. Though they are more forgiving, they also need to be watered regularly in the warmer months. Container plantings can be miniature landscapes and when they are circular, they can be turned and viewed from many different angles. Wiping buttermilk on your old terracotta pots will encourage moss to grow on the sides. Old boats have been planted with vegetables and old wheelbarrows are perfect for flowers. With a basic understanding and so many choices, have some fun with your own choice of containers.

The moral of the story is – watch out for clever treacherous snails. If you can’t get up early to hunt for snails still out and about, put your leftover beer in a throw away tray. If your always away, you may be able to pay, to keep snails away. Remember the copper strip if your on a trip. Instead of snails trails, turn the snail pail into eggs or chicken legs.

Leave the Leaves

Little leaves and leaf litter
are seen as messing up the scene.
They are viewed as ruining our view.
Everyone has his or her pet peeves.
For many, it is fallen leaves.
It’s best to leave the leaves there.
It’s ideal if they’re ‘everywhere’.
Make useful decorative mulch.
Don’t bury leaves deep in a gulch.
Aid the worms and make compost.
From free provision…make the most.
An abundant life we envision
when we tend and dress Earth’s skin.
In the garden, we are extended a pardon.
It’s okay to rake over a lawn,
but the fallen leaves need not be gone.
For thorns and disease
there are ways to deal with ease,
but for most leaves
we don’t even need to roll up our sleeves.
But we do need to recycle the leaves.
Without blowers it is quiet and clean,
We don’t need to haul away the green.
As long as a drain does not strain to strain,
Leaves reign with rain helping nature’s domain.
Don’t be mean to the garden scene,
and everything will be more serene.
By “Green” Gene