Gardening, Rachel-style

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I usually give all the gardening and nature posts to Veronica, but this one isn’t worthy of her master gardening skills. It’s very much a Rachel kind of project, starting with, not surprisingly, a prominent bed where nothing could grow.

When we came here nine years ago, it was full of irises and day lilies. Very nice flowers, but they were over crowded, not having been tended for who knew how many years, and they only flower for a short time in spring. I wanted to stretch the bloom time through the summer. Right away I took out the bulbs, leaving only a few that were hard to get out. I had a vision of native prairie wildflowers and grasses, approximating a little patch of prairie on the lawn in front of our motel, highlighting the sign which rises up out of the bed. But the first year I just put in inexpensive annuals, because I didn’t have time just yet to manifest the whole vision.

Everything died. Plant food did nothing. A soil test showed normal acidity. Over the years I did everything short of taking out all the soil (which I have concluded was actually construction dirt) and replacing it. I was thrilled to start composting, but failed to maintain proper balance and after a couple years I was adding more bugs to the dirt than nutrients. I know people say that roly polies cannot eat live plants, but I guarantee you it is not true. When we die and leave our bodies, we will be one with everything and have access to all knowledge. Then we will know without doubt two things: where all those socks went, and that roly polies eat flowers.

My friend John Queen invited us to take some perennials from his garden, and for a few years we had a very nice echinacea. The butterflies loved it. I tried transplanting weeds from the cracks in the parking lot to join it. Surely if they could grow in gravel, they could grow in this stuff; but they didn’t. Eventually the echinacea died too.

I gave up on native plants and put in anything I could think of. Ice plant shriveled. Ornamental grasses were seeded but never appeared. Year after year, all that grew there was buffalo grass, bindweed, and the few scattered irises I’d never managed to remove. Last year we got in some queen anne’s lace, which was kind of pretty for a short time and looked like the untended weed it was for most of the summer.

Spring rolls back around, though, every year. Most years I get that itch to give it one more try. Rodeo was coming, the one weekend every year when we know we can rent every room suitable to rent, and turn some people down. It had been a couple years since I’d added the pest-infused compost, so maybe they had gone somewhere else. I decided to put in an assortment of cheap annuals and throw down some mulch, in the spaghetti method (throw it at the wall and see what sticks). If it all dies in 2 weeks, I won’t have invested much.

Of course I couldn’t resist adding a few weeds from the parking lot. So far the daisy fleabane is doing much better than last time. This year was the first time I’d seen salsify here, and it doesn’t transplant well generally, but hasn’t died yet, so I’m considering that a success. In fact, rodeo is over, everyone has checked out, and every plant I put in is still alive, so my first goal has been reached. I have pictures to prove it.