Category Archives: garden writing

The Monthly Museletter—September 2017

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“Lunar Libration” by Tomruen, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Karla sent in her September newsletter two weeks ago and I’m just now getting the green bits to you today. So sorry for the delay! It’s a list of goodies with a focus on the soulful, the beautiful, the green. Again, thank you so very much, dear Karla, for sharing! —SK

P. S. If you’re local (Colorado Springs) and would like Karla’s full newsletter that includes local events, you can write her at karlaann45 @ gmail.com.

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Eco-brilliant: These portable, inflatable, solar-rechargeable lanterns were invented by a woman and help folks who have no electricity. You can also put one on your car dashboard to recharge your phone as you travel! Buy them directly from luminaid.com so some of your money will go to help those who can’t afford them.

“There’s no problem so awful you can’t add some guilt and make it even worse.” —Bill Watterson

Being used as a college text, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, was written by a host of experts & edited by Paul Hawken. I never buy a book I haven’t read, and only buy “keepers” — this one I knew right away was a keeper.

And one more book recommendation:
“Faery energy, the Gaian presence, the Goddess, Mother Earth: every culture has had a name for this awareness of the Life Force in Nature.” (p.17) “Water is an optimist . . . always willing to take on the more powerful positive structure of thoughts and intentions. It wants to be healthy, strong, and beautiful . . . even a small quantity of positively charged Water [can] communicate with and transform a large area or body of Water.” (p.54) —from The Garden Awakening by Irish wild-gardener Mary Reynolds. Illustrated by Ruth Evans. Here’s a short film about the book:

Mama Moon is NOT dry—there’s a water-rich interior & polar canyons! Check it out here.

Are you drawn to Ireland? (So am I!) Watch Ireland’s Wild Coast for free.

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Causeway Coast, Antrim, Northern Ireland. View looking west towards Giant’s Causeway. Image via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the Bees Knees! Check out Chicago’s airport – it hosts beehives!

Raise food on the roof of a grocery store where you sell it—that’s called “hyperlocal” GreenCityGrowers.com

Think Small! “Nothing is more responsible than living in the smallest space you possibly can.” —minimalist F. Marcia

Have you heard of “ABEEGO”? it’s a re-usable beeswax wrap that lets food breathe. “Keep food alive!” says our friend.

A Beautiful Gift Idea: A RESIST BIG MONEY IN POLITICS stamp to put it on all your dollars, even on the $20 White House! It’ll let those who you do business with know your values!

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Going Places: Check out this electric walking bike which has a treadmill instead of a seat—you can exercise AND get places fast!
and . . .
Volkswagen electric vehicles are on the way!

Women Chief Judges of two west coast tribes are the center of this POV film TRIBAL JUSTICE. Their Native systems focus on restoration, not retribution . . .

Word! “2.4 billion people lack sanitation: more people have a cell phone than a toilet.” —Matt Daimon

And, to end on a fun (and admittedly political and not green, but I couldn’t help myself) note: 

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Clowns in wedding dresses confound the loud KKK with silly WIFE POWER! This is a brilliant story and shows how laughter can be more than medicine—it can be the perfect way to ridicule Nazis!

 

 

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Diary of Garden Goddess – Part III

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“Border trellis with clematis in a garden in Clavering, Essex, England.” Photo by Acabashi, via Wikimedia Commons.

This is a mostly-autobiographical story I wrote quite a few years ago, when my daughters were little and I tried my hand as a gardener-for-hire for part of the summer. It was first published in Greenwoman #4.

—Sandra Knauf

June 8

The crew spends the morning at the name-brand heiress’ home. I hear her and Hattie argue twice. The first time is over some perennials Madeline bought mail order from an expensive East Coast nursery.

They’re standing over the tiny plants (that Hattie and Jill planted personally two weeks ago) and Madeline says, “I just don’t understand why they’re not doing better.”
“Madeline, they’re fine,” says Hattie. “They’ve only been in two weeks. They have to establish their root system in the new soil before they’ll start having top growth.”

This does not please the heiress. “They’re just so small. I’m not happy with them.”

“You could have bought bigger plants locally, for less money,” says Hattie, and I cringe. It’s Hattie’s buy-local-think-global policy; she’s not able to resist. “And they would have been acclimated too.”

Madeline tosses her well-coiffed head. “I suppose.”

Later, when it’s almost time to leave, Hattie introduces me to Madeline, telling her I’m “a Master Gardener.” This pleases Madeline and she smiles graciously, as do I. I return the Osmocote to the potting shed and run to the back to look for my bypass pruners. Two minutes later I’m back, and find the ladies still standing in the driveway.

“I buy them small, because when you buy a smaller plant, you’re going to have a healthier plant,” I hear Hattie explain. I notice the object of the conversation is the gallon-sized plant she’s holding in one hand, a foot-tall lavender-bloomed clematis that was planted earlier in the trellised area near the driveway.

“I would just like a bigger one,” says Madeline.

“It won’t take that long for it to grow once it becomes established,” Hattie insists. “I guarantee you it will catch up.” She smiles at Madeline and I see she’s decided to turn on her considerable charm. “Now, what would you rather have, a healthier plant or instant gratification?”

The pause is not as long as a gnat’s ass. “Instant gratification,” Madeline says. She smiles back at Hattie when she says it, then looks over at me, and I feel a certain naughty (and guilty) admiration for her. Hattie looks dejected.

In the truck, Hattie tells me that Madeline is having all the perennials she special-ordered from some “Fancy East Coast Flower Farm” pulled out. She is seething.

Zora and Lily had a great time with their dad today, as if I haven’t spent the last decade of my life being their personal entertainment center and doting, loving, 24/7 momma. I even read them all the Harry Potter books—out loud. What gratitude. Andy’s dinner was very good, too.

June 10

Jill and I get into a disagreement over a plant identification at one of her gardens. She’s been bounding around happily for the last two hours, fine tuning whilst I weed, like she’s in a personal paradise she created with one hand tied behind her back. I am jealous; she’s younger, in charge, doesn’t have children to pine for while she toils. She says a plant is fernleaf yarrow, I say it’s tansy. The plant isn’t in bloom. I remark on the pungent foliage, and smartly share my knowledge that the word tansy comes from the French word for “nose-twister.” I’ve got one in my yard.

“It’s a fernleaf yarrow!” Jill’s exasperated, and I feel oddly satisfied that I have irritated her. This is not like me.

I look the plant up that evening. Jill’s right, it is fernleaf yarrow. My feelings for Jill are mixed. I like her and I don’t. She seems to have all the answers, her compass confidently pointing to a direction of business ownership and independence at such a young age, when I’m rapidly approaching middle age and I can’t really tell where the hell it is I’m headed, though I am beginning to worry it may be an entire life of scraping by and not knowing what it is, beside mothering, that I’m supposed to be doing.

Andy’s teased me numerous times about how I can’t seem to settle on anything. I’ve investigated becoming an interior designer, tried my hand at journalism, thought about opening a tea shop. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, what the hell is it that I am meant for? I love writing and gardening more than anything and so many things hold me in rapt fascination. Motherhood has been my priority, and will be always, but now that the girls are growing older we both need more independence. I know I shouldn’t cling too tightly, but at the same time I know these years will not last. I don’t like being away from them.

Jill’s lucky. She knows more about gardening than I do, and even had the good fortune to be raised by gardeners. Not only mom, but grandma too! I had to learn it all on my own. No one to guide me down the primrose path. I suspect Hattie likes Jill better too–how could she not? My darker side sees Jill as a little know-it-all, still-wet-behind-the-ears, smartass. My truthful side says I’m the one being a jerk.

June 13

We’re at a surgeon’s home and it’s one of the most beautiful gardens so far. There’s a pool in the backyard and bursting, blooming, lovely English cottage style beds all around, designed and planted by the missus, a highly-educated, likeable, down-to-earth woman.

She chats with us and I learn she enjoys shopping at Walmart and Home Depot for plants. That stops me. All this and . . . Walmart? She’s the opposite of the franchise queen. Hattie and I refuse to shop at Walmart, knowing that low prices for some come at a steep price for others, namely American businesses and Walmart employees.

This garden would be a glorious place to weed indeed except for one thing. There’s dog shit everywhere, complements of an Orson Wells-sized retriever who stays in his kennel while we’re there (his imprisonment’s due to his excitable nature—if loose we’d all be humped).

There’s definitely something amiss about this dog because his urine, which is also everywhere, reeks.

As I weed, gingerly avoiding turds, longing for a tussy-mussy to hold to my nose, I wonder at the mess. While I am far from fastidious, this is beyond even my level of tolerance. I think, surely if these people can afford three gardeners to come out, at twenty dollars an hour apiece, can’t they afford to hire someone to pick up the dog shit?

At another garden one of the tasks include braiding daffodil foliage. The flowers are wilted and gone, the long green leaves of the daffodils are floppy and, I suppose, not pretty enough to display as is, and yet the bulb needs the energy garnered from those green leaves so they cannot be cut off. I feel absolutely ridiculous braiding daffodil foliage. For some reason it reminds me of extravagant pubic hair grooming, like when a relative told me she had her bush trimmed into a heart shape in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

June 15

We’re in Hades again, weeding together in a group, Hattie, Jill and I. June is also turning out to be the hottest on record and we’re getting bitchy. Hattie asks me what’s my astrological sign.

“Capricorn.”

“Oh, Capricorn,” she says, lifting an eyebrow. “My mom’s a Capricorn, I know all about you.” Her tone is definitely on the smart-alecky side, with the tiniest hint of hostility, and I wonder what she’s getting at. She’s mentioned she and her mom have been at odds many times, over religion, politics, life in general.

“Well, what’s yours?”

“Libra.”

Well, I’ll be damned, I think. My mom’s a Libra and I can see some similarities between Hattie and Mom, the perhaps just slightly too fun-loving, living-for-the-day attitude, the belief that their world view is the only world view.

“Ha,” I say, “I know all about you, too.”

June 17

A good day. I catch my first snakes and am stung by a wasp. I know it doesn’t sound good, but for me, Mrs. Wild at Heart, it was exciting. Both occur at The Remmick’s, a house with another big rock wall garden, two doors down from Hades. I dubbed it Hades II. In the morning, I spot a yellow jacket and tell Jill. Hattie says it’s probably nesting in the wall and the owner will spray because yellow jackets are aggressive. To verify this, within two minutes I’m stung, and endure a white-hot sensation on my wrist, but only for a few minutes. I feel rather proud of my ability to endure wasp-venom.

An hour later I notice the snake.

Jill’s nearby and I call her attention to it.

“Get it,” she says, and, not thinking, I snatch. My gloved hand comes back with two snakes. One about a foot long and the other a few inches smaller, both brilliant green with yellow stripes. My heart lurches but I don’t squeal.

Luckily, Jill has the weed bucket ready and I’m able to drop them in immediately. They slither up the bucket’s sides, frantically trying to escape. I squirm.

“Grab some weeds,” orders Jill. I gather some up from the drying pile on the lawn and drop them over the snakes. They chill out.

“See, they just want some cover.”

“Woo-wee!” says Hattie, who’s joined us.

Jill leaves to get a shirt, to tie over the top of the bucket with a bungee cord.

“My God,” I say. “I’ve never even held a snake before. It’s a good thing I had gloves on, or I wouldn’t have done it.”

Hattie chuckles. “Your eyes were pretty big. Jill will take them home, put them in her garden. It’s not a good idea to have them here. Annie next door, her boyfriend’s killed snakes before.”

“Ribbon snakes? Why?”

“Cause she’s terrified.”

“But they’re beneficial.”

“Tell that to someone standing on a lawn chair, screaming,” says Hattie. “Oh, by the way, sweetie, you’ve completed the second milestone that certifies you as a true gardener.”

I feel a kinship towards Jill. I would have loved to take the snakes home but my chickens would probably have made a meal of them.

ribbon snake

June 20

We’re back in the Shitloads of Money area and I suspect Jill may have been smoking Mother Nature. She has that goofy, very-pleased-with-it-all look, and she’s admiring the bush clematis a little too much.

Suddenly I hear bells playing, “It’s a ‘Grand Ole’ Flag.’ ”

“Where’s that coming from?” I ask Hattie.

“Oh, it’s the carillon in the church, up on the hill. It plays each noon.”

“Does it always play that song?”

“Sure does,” says Hattie. She rolls her eyes.

The extra-happy gardener walks by and says, “Wow, isn’t that something?”

“You should of heard it earlier, Jill,” I say. “They played ‘Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog.’ ”

“Really?” she asks.

As they’d say in slang-lish, she is so stoned. I’m practically bubbly too, with a feeling of superiority. I would never arrive at a client’s house in such a condition, though I do remember smoking pot with my boss once, at Jill’s age, at work. Oh yeah, I also got pretty intoxicated with that same boss during a luncheon celebration on my 21st birthday. Perhaps I should lose the smugness.

June 21

I’ve been checking out starting my own gardening business during my days off and I found my second job today when I called a city office about getting a business license. The woman I spoke to said, “You’re a gardener? I need one.” We set an appointment. As with the other job, I don’t tell Hattie or Jill.

June 24

I’m at Mike’s again, by myself. It is yet another 90-degree-plus day. Maybe I should name this garden Hades III. After doing a lot of weeding her son drops by and says hi. He’s a nice, kind of a doughy, middle-aged guy. I think he’s in medicine. Mike has me cut down the poppies, telling me I can save the decorative seed heads if I like, then goes into the house. As I’m performing this task near their sliding glass doors I have this creepy feeling that I’m being watched.

The last thing I do is put up a trellis and try to attach the incredible mess that’s laying all over the ground that is a honeysuckle vine. I do the best I can, wrestling with the son-of-a-seed, but it ends up looking far from perfect. I stay a few minutes longer, but Mike’s a nice lady; I don’t mind, I want to finish the work. I don’t record it.

Hattie calls me that night and says Mike doesn’t want me to come over any more; she’d like another gardener. She says I took too long to cut down the poppies. I’m stunned. I’ve never been fired in my life. I didn’t dawdle. I wonder what happened. Did it irritate her that I liked her son’s contributions to the garden, or maybe she thought I was charging her for the extra time I spent there, or maybe I just spent too much time admiring her flowers (though I didn’t think so). She was hyper-aware of the time clock, that I know. I decide I probably just wasn’t nose to the grindstone enough. Or, maybe, I didn’t “know my place.”

After some smarting and squirming, I realize I can’t waste time caring about this. I am still happy about Mike’s gift of free plants.

The client/service thing is really getting under my skin. I’ve gone nearly a decade free as most can ever hope to be, and am now like a tiger lily stolen from the wild and crammed into a pot. I don’t like it. I fear I’m ruined for the work force, I’ll never be any good in the rat race. Even though this may signal an inevitable decline down the road, for now the awareness of this is sweet.

June 29

I complete my second freelance gardening job this weekend.

The woman’s name on the telephone was Iris, which I took as a good omen, and she lives alone in a newer neighborhood in a modest-sized house. When we meet I see she’s about fifty, pretty, quite feminine; her home is tastefully furnished. I admire her rose-patterned antique china in her antique oak hutch. She wants to start a garden, she’s sick of the grass, but doesn’t know a thing about the green world. She would like a couple of trellises with vines, and a planter on her front porch with perennials, ditto a small bed in back. I visit her grounds which include a patchy weed filled backyard and two small flower beds with feverfew seedlings and a few snapdragons. She covets her neighbor’s garden, an enclosed paradise of honeysuckle vines and roses. We visit it together.

I am unloosed to design this woman’s garden and during my ecstatic shopping excursion I buy in multiples of extra-feminine flowers: pasque flower, columbine, oriental poppy, salvia, ladies mantle, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ geranium, siberian iris, ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano, pink baby’s breath, ‘Husker Red’ penstemon, double hollyhocks, daylily, ‘Hidcote’ lavender and ‘Rose Queen’ salvia. Several roses: a dark rose and white Meideland for her porch, a ‘John Davis’ climbing rose for the new bed below her deck, and a ‘Fairy’ polyantha for a large pot. A few vines: clematis tangutica, Hall’s honeysuckle and trumpet creeper ‘Madame Galen’ will begin the softening of her fenced-in backyard. And of course, I add a few bags of soil amendment. I find a playdate for the girls on Saturday so Andy can help me haul two fan trellises for the fence and two trellis panels to cover and beautify the space below her back deck. He hangs them for me.

I love it.

I can see how I could develop my own business easily. Problem is, while I love creating gardens, I love writing, and being home, so much more. The seed of a green-hearted novel’s been germinating and now it’s demanding to be cultivated on paper. And it’s been almost a month since my girls got out of school. Even part time is too much time away.

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July 3

On the day I begin creating childlike scenarios of intrigue with worms, dandelions, and bluegrass and then tiptoe through sexual-in-nature garden fantasies, I take a 12:40 pee break at the Shitloads of Money neighborhood gas station/convenience store. I drive my seven-year-old Taurus, and as I stop at the intersection right next to the store, a man, about to cross the street on foot, stops too. He waves my car on, his gestures grand. As I pull in the parking lot he walks by and says, “THANK YOU!”

His rudeness unsettles me. Was I supposed to insist he crossed before me? Oh, no sir, after you! As I dig for change in my purse a woman pulls up at the pumps. She’s young, blonde, skinny with huge boobs, in the biggest SUV money can buy this side of a Hummer. I’ve come across one of the area’s indigenous species, a trophy wife. She leaves the behemoth running while she darts into the store. Here it’s safe to leave a new vehicle running, door unlocked. No car thief would be so incredibly stupid in this part of town, where police service is probably almost instantaneous. I’m angry at the jerk at the crossroad and sorely want to pass it on to the trophy bride, to yell, “Hey, gas waster, turn off your damn engine!”

The community toilet that we gardening ladies share with all the gentlemen workers in the area (pool men, lawn mowing men, tree men, construction workers, a man for every need, nothing too great or small) is half-clogged. I won’t go into the disgusting, sickening details. I’m afraid to flush, but I’m near bursting, so I pee anyway, hovering. After I pull up my pants, I push down the handle and move away from the seatless toilet as fast as I can. The contents, thankfully, go down. My bile rises.

Our clients. Would it be too much to offer facilities at their homes, for their hired help who are busting their asses to make their lives more magically beautiful? Really, would an outhouse be too dear? I think how Hattie could make even an outhouse tres chic, covered with vines and roses. It would definitely be better than this communal shithole. Then I wonder why I’m wasting my time thinking about what the privileged should do.

That afternoon at the Rennick’s I share my idea. I’ve temporarily gotten over my shitty mood because at this house I have some company. I’m not all by myself, going crazy.

“Great idea,” Hattie says. “Only problem is, the workers would probably use it as a place to smoke pot.”

I hadn’t thought of that. So, who cares?

I bitch a little more and Hattie tells me that in all the years she’s been a gardener, she’s never gotten so much as a card on Christmas from the Shitloads of Money crowd.

July 8

By the second week in July, all the new installations have gone in, the flowerpots and hanging baskets and windowboxes have been filled. The weeds are under control. Now it’s just mind-numbing maintenance. Deadheading, endless weeding. I don’t want to be a hired gardener any more, and I’m a little doubtful I’ll ever start my own gardening business. It’s too hard physically, it’s too hard on the ego, and I don’t like being away from my daughters when they are home all day during the summer. Life’s too short. I tell Hattie that I’m going to leave, that I want to get back to writing and my family. She understands.
I feel liberated.

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Postscript: February 12, the next year.

I had a physical legacy from the gardener-for-hire experiment, my right elbow ached for many months. Tennis elbow, from using a shovel, doing the manual lawn edging. It finally stopped this week. I can’t wait to get back to gardening this year, in my own garden.

I talked to Hattie last night. She said she didn’t last the summer with the heiress. The green grind also took its toll on Jill, and she decided in the fall to enroll in nursing school. She’s able to make enough through waitressing a few nights a week to pay the bills. Waitressing—another service job, but one that is lucrative compared to creating beauty and toiling in the soil. I’m sorry that things weren’t anywhere near as rosy for Jill as I had imagined.

Hattie says she’ll start looking for some more crew members in a month or so. She says she thinks gardening must be a calling, as there are many who try it and don’t stay with it. Only she’s reached those other milestones of the true gardener, ones that may forever remain a mystery to me.

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Diary of a Garden Goddess – Part II

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This is a mostly-autobiographical story I wrote quite a few years ago, when my daughters were little and I tried my hand as a gardener-for-hire for part of the summer. It was first published in Greenwoman #4.

—Sandra Knauf

May 12

I’m planting annuals, salvia, petunias, lobelia, and dusty miller, in a long built-in planter at the top of a ten-foot-high brick wall on the side of a long driveway. It can only be reached by ladder. My fear of heights is kicked in again and I’m a little shaky but going about my business. I see a bee fly into a small hole in a brick below me. She leaves, then returns, and this time I move down to get a closer look. The bee’s carrying a perfectly round piece of leaf. I keep tabs on her and she comes out again, and flies away.

By the time she returns I’m very close, my face about a foot away from the hole’s entrance. I’m not worried about being stung as I know she’s working, and not concerned with me. As she positions herself for a landing, I get a micro-view. She’s holding the leaf with her thin, long for a bee, legs. The leafy green rug’s partially rolled up, so it’ll fit in the hole. I watch her as she hovers for a few more moments, wings beating rapidly. She’s about the same size as a honeybee, stout, hairy, and has a metallic blue cast. She completely ignores me, so intent is she on her work. It’s like a TV nature show, a micro-view of one infinitesimal part of nature, but a million times better. It’s the coolest thing I’ve witnessed in a garden yet.

Hattie tells me later I’ve seen a leafcutter bee. They cut precise circles and ovals out of leaves for their long, tunnel-like nests. The ovals line the bottom and sides. They lay one egg per cell, provision each with a mixture of nectar and pollen, and cap each cell with a circle of green.

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By Bob Peterson “from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth!” via Wikimedia Commons

“When you see rose leaves with these perfect holes in them, it’s the leafcutter,” Hattie says. “They cause some damage, but not enough to get worked up about. What’s really cool about it all, is that the first egg they lay, the oldest one in the far back of the tunnel, is the last to come out.”

I admire the leafcutter for her industriousness. Later I look it up on the Internet and find out the leafcutter, of the Megachile species, are natives. They’re important pollinators, not aggressive, have a mild sting (milder than honeybees and wasps) that’s only a threat when they are handled. Our Colorado entomological expert, Whitney Cranshaw, writes: “Leafcutter bees are solitary bees, meaning that they don’t produce colonies . . . Instead, individual female leafcutter bees do all the work of rearing.”

May 13

We’re on the east side of town, in an upper middle-class neighborhood. The house next door to our client’s is a tacky Southern cliché on “having arrived;” blindingly white fluted columns (I’m guessing metal) on a Georgian-style brick house sitting in front of an endless void of Kentucky green front lawn studded with white urns, fake flowers, and a Rococo, waterless fountain. All that’s missing is a big Cadillac.

Hattie refers to the client next door, where we’ll be working, by her first name, Annie. Annie’s a gynecologist. In the back garden is a patio and small lawn, the running ground for two amiable terriers, and a koi pond, covered with netting to protect the prize fishes from the occasional hungry blue heron. A huge rock garden surrounds it all. It’s built into the surrounding hill, a terraced stone wall topped by an upper garden of boulders and flowers and backed by a parched meadow, a perfect habitat for rattlesnakes.

The day is warm for this time of year, in the upper 80’s. We’ve been drinking a lot of water and I’m thankful Annie has welcomed us to use her bathroom facilities, so we won’t have to go at the nearby 7-Eleven. This is a different neighborhood, though; in the Broadmoor we always have to go to the convenience store.

I’m thinking of calling this the Hades garden. On top of the rock wall it’s hot and dry, and our weeding, started in different areas, has over the last two hours eventually brought us together. We squat at the top of the property, among the delphinium, yucca, lupine, and soon-to-be scorching stones. I’m the first to finish and when I stand up my head swims.

“Whoa, I just got a head rush.”

Hattie and Jill find this amusing.

“She just got a twirly,” says Jill.

“Congratulations,” says Hattie. “Having a twirly is one of the milestones in becoming a gardener.”

After some shrub pruning, we gather our tools to leave. Hattie points out a red-tailed hawk soaring above us in the cloudless sky, and I wonder if they’re a threat to the koi.

May 15

One of a hired gardener’s perks is being able to keep anything they have to weed out. I always defer to Hattie and Jill, but have still scored some coreopsis, pain-in-the-aster, Knautia macedonica (red pincushion flower; Hattie calls them “naughty-uh” because of their fecundity), hollyhocks, and even a tiny tree, an Arborvitae Hattie potted up personally and presented to me like a gift.

It makes me feel Robin Hoody; taking from the rich. Hattie nurtures orphans in her own garden, gives them to garden club members and to the church where we hold our monthly garden club meetings. Most of the time, though, she relocates them to another of her clients’ gardens as freebies. I’m astonished at her non-capitalistic commune with nature through gardening and don’t think I’d be so generous.

May 18

We meet at the greenhouse with the garden club members. Hattie’s multi-tasking, picking out annuals for both our club’s plant sale and for her clients. I’m thrilled because I’m indulging in my all time favorite gardening task, shopping. I buy several flats at wholesale prices, an orgy of annuals.

Hattie and Jill buy a truckload for their clients. Jill raves over some parti-colored striped petunias, hot pink and white, white and dark purple. I think they look circus-like, but keep my opinion to myself.

Later in the day, one of Hattie’s favorite clients, a nice sixty-something woman who lives in a Spanish-colonial style townhouse near the Garden of the Gods, goes ga-ga over the petunias Jill picked out.

Petunia 001 (2)

May 19

We spend a good part of the day at an out-of-town nursery that specializes in herbs. I’m in plant lust mode again, buying herbs and perennials at $1 each for a 2 ½” pot. There are seven different types of basil—Thai, Siam Queen, African Blue, globe, purple leafed, lemon, Genovese; five types of scented geraniums, and oh, so much more!

Hattie wears short shorts and a tank top, her hair up in a ponytail. She’s trying to even out, as she calls it, her “gardener’s tan,” a white-torsoed tan similar to the farmer’s version. Hattie’s legs are gorgeous, but her impressive breasts, I’m guessing “DD,” are slightly more on the side of Venus of Willendorf than Venus de Milo. Hattie doesn’t give a damn. I admire Hattie’s uninhibited, I-am-beautiful attitude, one that I can only achieve when under the influence of a significant amount of alcohol. Hattie declares herself a primitive, and once told me she would love to live an aboriginal life.

This evening Hattie calls to get my hours—she also pays on time. We bitch about the sprawl in Colorado Springs and she comments about the developers who run our city, “That’s their job. Sucking up beautiful places and spitting out shit.”

May 20

Hattie seems to genuinely adore most of her clients. This morning we weed and plant ‘Lemon gem’ marigolds at an elderly man’s modest ranch-style house. The home seems to be suburban-boring until I see a contemporary bronze fountain in the back pond. Hattie calls him “sweetie.” One of many.

I notice a fledgling robin hopping around the yard, crying to its mother, who delivers food to him. “He’ll be fine,” says Hattie, “unless a cat comes by.”

In the afternoon we’re met by the whole crew, plus two more, an older man and woman Hattie hired specifically for the occasion, to plant a truckload of gallon-sized stop-sign colored geraniums in the front of a huge home in a gated community.

We tour the conifer garden, which is expansive and sculptural with only a few flowers. Hattie calls the owner by her first name, Madeline. Madeline is whip-thin, and her pretty, somewhat waxy features remind me of a well-preserved orchid, a prom-queen from ages past. Hattie’s sure she’s had plastic surgery. Madeline’s not a gardener, she’s a designer, which means she does all the shopping and directing of where-to-put-what. Hattie tells me of some expensive cast-offs she’s received from her, purchases Madeline decided she “didn’t quite like” once she got home.

This is the first garden I’ve visited that bespoke major design savvy. Madeline’s garden is Oriental-influence-done-right. Every tree, shrub and flower is carefully placed, meticulously groomed and pampered. It’s the antithesis of how Hattie and I roll; we tend toward the “wild and wooly” as Hattie calls it. I prefer to think of it as gardening with Nature and letting Nature keep the upper hand.

We begin planting the geraniums and it isn’t long before I notice that Madeline’s holding an animated conversation with Hattie.

Madeline goes inside and Hattie walks over. She’s holding a plastic jar of Osmocote, the time-release fertilizer that comes in tiny beige balls, and some measuring spoons. “Have you guys been putting Osmocote in the planting holes?” she asks.

Cindy and I shake our heads. “I didn’t know we were supposed to,” I say.

“Well, that’s what Madeline wants. We’re going to have to take them all out and put a rounded teaspoonful in each hole.”

“Geez,” I say, “what is she, the Osmocote heiress?”

“No,” say Hattie. She names a famous electronics company and tells me Madeline’s the heiress of that.

May 22

We go to Mike’s today for the first time. Mike’s a she, the sixty-something widow of a military officer. She’s kind of brusque, but I like her. I’m in love with her garden. It’s on a hillside, has incredible diversity, and is xeric. I see a lot of plants that I haven’t seen in other gardens and covet a bronze Buddha nestled among poppies. Mike’s middle-aged son lives with her, as do two small, barking terriers. Hattie leaves Cindy and me there and we weed for three hours.

My friend Susan calls me that evening and asks if I’d like to do a gardening job for a friend of hers, an elderly lady who lives downtown. She has a Spanish colonial-style house, with a built-in planter running down the entire length that needs to be filled with annuals. Susan usually does it for her but she’s too busy this year. Would I call her?

I do; and make a date for my very first contract work!

May 23

This morning we’re spreading mulch. I get to the job at 9:30 A.M. and have to wait for Hattie and crew for twenty minutes. I’m irritated, thinking about how I could be home, working in my own garden instead of sitting here not getting paid. It’s supposed to be a 90-degree day. When Cindy, another of Hattie’s gardeners, pulls up, the owner, a rake thin, 40ish man comes out and greets us.

He leads us up the long driveway to the house. On the way, I spy a small weed tree sapling, a Siberian elm, notorious in these parts, among the border of shrubs and trees leading up the driveway. Reflexively, I reach down and pull it out.

The owner stops, turns to face me. He’s angry. “Why did you do that?”

“It was a weed tree.”

His manner is icy and he speaks slowly, as if instructing a child, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t remove anything without my permission.”

I seethe in silence, thinking, here I am, a master gardener with a B.A., getting chewed out by a homeowner for plucking out a goddamn weed.

It doesn’t get any better. The truck ’o mulch arrives as does Hattie, Jill, Cindy, and another woman whom I’ve never met—just as it starts getting nice and toasty. We have three wheelbarrows. The assembly line begins. We take turns standing on the truckload of mulch, pitchforking the barrows full, and pushing them up the long, steep driveway, around to the back of the house, through the trees, to dump and spread among a stand of white pines.

Back and up, back and up, over and over. It takes us two hours at a fast clip and I don’t know how many trips. It’s fun in a way because we kind of get into this competitive thing, where we’re hustling, passing each other like we’re in a relay, grinning—“hey, look at me, top this.”

I keep asking Cindy if she’s okay; she’s so red-faced she looks like she’s going to pass out, but Hattie says mine is the same. “Are you Irish?” she asks Cindy. Cindy doesn’t understand at first and thinks it may be a put-down, about liking to drink or something, but then Becky says it’s a Celtic trait–to get so obviously flushed when exerted. She’s of Celtic origin too. This may help to explain our shared pagan leanings.

Meanwhile, The Marquis de Sod, Supreme Protector of Weed Trees, is standing in the shade, watching four attractive, dressed-for-summer women haul wheelbarrow loads up and down his driveway, nearly collapsing from heat exhaustion. I sense he’s enjoying himself.

Wheel-Barrow-GraphicsFairy1

May 24

The job for the lady downtown worked out perfectly. I spent Saturday morning buying plants and soil amendment, and I finished it all in one afternoon. It was fun and I made a nice profit. It is so much better being the boss, no matter how perfect your boss may be.

We work in another big money garden today. There’s extensive construction going on with the house, adding a new wing to the thousands of square footage already in existence. More weeding, planting of annuals.

As Hattie and I drive homeward, we debate the relative differences of garden tours in her artsy-fartsy, celebrating-diversity neighborhood, where the gardeners are the sole workers and designers, and those in this neighborhood. Our garden club’s tour is coming up and we’re featuring gardens tended by the club’s professional gardeners. Most of the gardens will be in this exclusive section of town.

“The difference,” Hattie says, “is that here you get to see what shitloads of money can do for a garden.”

“Maybe we should call it the ‘Shitloads of Money’ tour.”

Hattie says that if we had a serious job we’d probably get into trouble together.

May 31

It’s another hot day. We’ve had the hottest May in the city’s recorded history, and it looks like June is going to be a scorcher too. Hattie says global warming is undeniable, those who work close to nature have been seeing changes for years. I get up early to water some plants in my own garden and to let the chickens out while everything’s dewey and cool and inside the family’s still sleeping. As I walk by a trellis, I see a bee’s been slumbering in a poppy and is now crawling out, damp and dew covered. I’ve heard that if bees are gathering nectar and pollen and it gets too late to return to the hive they’ll sleep in a flower. She’s unable to fly away until she’s dry. I feel blessed to witness this.

I work the morning alone in one of the gardens. Hattie’s sent me over to remove a big patch of King Alfred daffodils. She wants to save the bulbs and I’m to put them in trash bags for her.

The King Alfreds are deeply embedded in eighteen inches of muck. I can’t believe they are down so deep, that it is so frigging wet. Every time I put the shovel in to pry them out there is a tremendous sucking sound and the gigantic mound resists me, like they’re stuck in glue. It takes me over an hour to do a 5 x 8 foot patch, I’m soon wearing platform-mud heels, and I’m cursing under my breath. The water these places use, in a drought, is incredible, it’s a bog! When I tell Hattie about the experience, with the instruction “don’t ever send me on a job like that again,” she finds it hilarious.

The afternoon is spent at the Hades garden, where at one point, Hattie accidentally breaks off a daylily bud.

“Darn,” she says. Then she eats it and says, “yum.” I notice she’s wearing her wooden, dangling, peace-sign earrings.

Before we leave, Hattie dusts everything, not with fairy-dust, but with Feathermeal, the deer-keep away product. I have never smelled anything so god-awful in my life—it’s worse than shit, it’s worse than skunk, it’s worse than fish emulsion; it’s like the ground up, rotting entrails of the most vile sea/land/air creatures imaginable. I can’t see how she bears it.

Hattie says it’s made out of “chicken parts.”

On the way home she stops at a 7-Eleven to wash up and asks me if I need anything. When she comes back to the truck she’s got a paper container holding a corn dog, dripping in nacho cheese sauce product. “Sorry,” she says, “but I was starving.” I’m amazed at Hattie’s penchant for junk food.

June 4

Hattie sends me to Mike’s alone today. As Mike shows me where to work, I comment on a Salvia argentea, a huge, hairy-leafed, silver plant now at its rosette stage. Mike says, “Oh, Monty bought that.” She says it in a dismissive way that bothers me, the same tone she used when I commented on some interesting pavers that Monty bought. I think it’s cool her son’s into gardening, and feel sort of sorry for him, that his mom’s so prickly.

I weed for a couple of hours in the 90-plus degree heat, then take a thirty-minute lunch break for an iced cappuccino. I’m filthy when I walk in the coffee shop, covered in dirt and sweat, but I feel good, fully endorphin-ized by the sun and work.

Mike offers some orange hawkweed I’m digging out of her beds, and some other weed, I think it’s a malva. “The only name I know it by is “devil’s paintbrush,” she says of the hawkweed. “I brought it from back East, where it grows wild all over the place. They say it’s a terrible weed, but it’s easy to pull up, I don’t think it’s bad at all.” The plant has a low, mounded, hairy-leafed base with thin ten-inch stems that shoot up and are topped by a burnt orange flower cluster. It’s sculptural, interesting. Mike’s like the flower’s base, short, stocky, with short hair. She’s interesting too, but, like the weed, not easy to interpret.

She comes out to tell me when it’s time to leave, and seems concerned when I don’t pack up right away. I finish the area I’m working in, about ten more minutes, and I don’t mark it on my card, figuring it would be a nice way to show my gratitude for the pass-alongs. It’s been a lonely morning, in a stranger’s garden, but I’m excited about the free weeds.

My daughters, Zora, age nine, and Lily, six, have been out of school for almost a week. They hardly miss me at all. They’re having a grand time hanging out with Dad, and he with them. The house is about at the same stage of decay as it usually is, so I can’t claim things are going to hell.

Years ago, when we were first married, Andy stayed home for a year working on our first home, a Victorian-era house so dilapidated my mom said she wept after her first visit. I know Andy’d like to have the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the last decade, working at home. I’m surprised at my own feelings of antsy-ness and how I miss them all, like they’re having a party that I am not invited to.

* * *

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Diary of a Garden Goddess – Part I of III

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A Garden Daydream by Laura Chilson

This is a mostly-autobiographical story I wrote quite a few years ago, when my daughters were little and I tried my hand as a gardener-for-hire for part of the summer. It was first published in Greenwoman #4.

—Sandra Knauf

 

July 3rd

The first three hours working in the wealthy client’s garden that hot morning are business as usual, focusing on the labors of weeding, watering, dead-heading, and tying rose canes to arbors, all the while enjoying the sunshine and occasional refreshing mountain breeze. Then boredom sets in. Because my daughters are young and I’ve been reading bushels of storybooks about talking animals, it seems natural to amuse myself by inventing tales about plants and other animated citizens of the garden.

I imagine the Kentucky Bluegrass family are the well-fed and manicured lords and ladies of the manor. And it’s made them quite uppity.

“Oh, look, it’s Mr. Dandelion,” whispers Lady Bluegrass to her friends, eyeing the stranger standing across the ballroom. “How did he get in here?” The ladies secretly think Mr. Dandelion dandy, a good-natured hunk with a gorgeous yellow mane. But he’s not of “their kind,” so they’d never say this aloud.

Lords Blade and Spike stand nearby. Blade smirks. “Oh, look Spike, it’s Dandelion. You know how the Dandelions are—give them any room at all and they’ll simply take over.”

“Yes, and they’re so garish! You know, I heard the Vincas are in the process of moving,” says Spike. “They are quality, but still, it’ll be nice to have the neighborhood to ourselves again.”

The ladies overhear and smile at the lords. Everyone nods in approval.

I dig Mr. Dandelion out with my apple green Martha Stewart trowel. He takes it like a weed. Doesn’t say a thing. “Sorry,” I whisper, before tossing him next to the vincas I’ve dug out and potted.

In the hole created by Dandelion’s departure I spy two worms. They, too, are insufferable snobs.

“You’re a Broadmoor worm, son, act like it!” says Big Daddy Squiggles.

Sonny Boy Worm stretches tall, trying to make it appear that he has a spine.

Everyone knows their place here in the Broadmoor, our city’s most monied, most pampered burg. The Broadmoor, home of the five-star, world famous hotel of the same name has been Colorado Springs’ mecca of East Coast gentility since the town was founded in the once-wild 1860’s West. It’s nestled next to Cheyenne Mountain and the hotel has a new fence around it, just put in this year, to keep out the riff-raff. That would include me. I’m no one special. Just the hired help. A gardener.

I soon grow bored with the play, yet I’m still mostly content, deep in a blissful sun/work trance.

The spell vanishes when loud arguing comes from the mansion.

A male voice declares, “I only said I found her moderately attractive.”

The female’s reply is garbled.

Who are they talking about? I guess someone along the lines of a secretary, and I’m embarrassed to hear a domestic row. Then I imagine that perhaps the argument’s about me. After all, there I crouch, easily visible not ten feet away from their huge Palladian-style windows, trimmed down and toned considerably from weeks of physical labor, brown as a berry, healthy, flushed with sweat and sunshine, feeling creative and a little sexy and interminably bored. Perhaps, I muse, my cleavage is visible as I tend the grass. Maybe the Mr. has a wondering eye, and the Mrs. is quite fed up with it.

My mind drifts again. I think about a movie I watched recently, Gods and Monsters, and how the gay director of Frankenstein fame lusted after Clay, or “the yard man,” as he was called, played by Brendan Fraser. The old tomcat watched Clay from his window, greedily lapping him up like so much yardman cream. Soon Clay is invited in for a glass of iced tea, then lunch, then receives an offer for a modeling job, posing nearly nude for a painting.

My lingering bit of zen fades. I begin to feel as trapped as the yard man did in Queen Leer’s studio, but in another way. I miss my girls, who are home with Andy, my self-employed husband. I’m tired of working out in this heat every day, waiting for my skin to shrivel up like a dried peach. My own garden’s now seriously neglected, and I have an idea for a novel that’s begging to get out on paper. I’m sick of working in spoiled rich people’s gardens. Who am I kidding? I’m amusing myself by having the plants perform, by making up sexy gardener scenarios. I’m bored out of my freaking mind. I have been almost since I started this work.

dandelion cropped Rachael Davis

Dandelion by Rachael Davis

* * *

For a few months I’ve been playing professional gardener. Hattie Goodacre, who found herself short-handed in April, asked me to come work for her part time, only fifteen to twenty hours a week, and I jumped at the chance. I knew all about the gardening part, back-breaking labor mixed with equal parts bliss, and figured the experience wouldn’t be too far from that. Getting out of the house, a break from domesticity, was a plus, as was having a “real” (read “paying”) job. I welcomed the opportunity for camaraderie, outdoor work, and extra cash with which to indulge my own garden.

April 18th

Hattie picks me up on the first day in her small truck. The back of it’s covered with ecologically-minded bumper stickers and hippie words-of-wisdom, like “Who Owns You?” and “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm,” “Dare to Legalize Drugs,” and “Trees are the Answer.” Hattie’s ten years older than I, in her 40s, and I’m one of her greatest admirers. She’s an individual in a city that’s seemingly run by fundamentalist Christians and developers; where marching to the tune of your own drummer is nearly as frowned upon as same-sex marriages. She’s an early hippie and she looks the part, with nearly waist-length, beginning-to-grey hair braided in a ponytail and covered with a floppy straw hat, tie-dye tank shirt, Teva sandals, and dangling jewelry of silver and wood.

We met a few years earlier at the Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program. I was student, she was an instructor. I discovered Hattie possessed something rare and precious: a philosophy relating to gardening and her connection to nature. More importantly, she walked the talk. She spends much of her free time on environmental awareness, promoting permaculture, helping to save wild spaces, and non-environmental causes, such as helping the poor. Sensing a kindred soul, I gave her a copy of Michael Pollen’s book Second Nature while I was taking the master gardening course. She, in turn, invited me to join her garden club. I learned she was also a writer; we became friends.

On our first day working together, we head to the nursery to pick up some Feathermeal, a deer repellent. She banters with the help as I take it all in, happy to be part of a new adventure. I’m wearing faded jeans, a green T-shirt, sneakers. I hate hats and have left mine in the truck.

As we pull out of the driveway, Hattie spies the seashell shaped top of a birdbath, lying near a fence. It’s chipped on one side. “Look at that.”

“Garden art,” I say.

“I’m going to go ask them what they’re going to do with it.”

I wait in the truck. It’s a throwaway and Hattie claims it. Back in the cab she says, “Bitchin’.”

Hattie’s also a foster mom for plants. Her home garden’s filled with orphans rescued from trash and compost piles.

At the first client’s home I meet Hattie’s new business partner, a twenty-two year old woman named Jill. Hattie filled me in on the way—Jill’s a former class valedictorian, taking some time off from college, she’s just bought her own home, a small ranch style house. Hattie discovered her last year, working for $8 an hour for another gardener. When that gardener moved out of state, Hattie snagged Jill. “I could not believe how much she knew,” Hattie told me earlier in the truck. “She’s a genius.” Although Jill knows a lot, she hasn’t yet been accepted into the Master Gardener program.

Jill looks younger than I imagined; her short blond hair is pulled into a ponytail, kinda Gidget-y. She wears a big smile and no makeup.

“Man, the nepeta’s seeded everywhere,” she says when we arrive, “also the asters. We’ll need to work on that today. There’s also tons of ash tree seedlings.”

“Ah, the asters.” Hattie winks at me. “I call ’em pain-in-the-asters.”

I find that while Jill delights in letting plant-Latin roll effortlessly off her tongue she also speaks Slang-lish; she says “bitchin’” a lot, like Hattie, but her favorite expression is “killer,” as in “those were some killer pachysandra.”

It’s clear Jill and Hattie are tight. They both wear Teva sandals, and carry matching Hori Hori knives Jill ordered through Horticulture magazine, in their matching ladies’ size leather tool belts. I can’t help but be a little envious of their relationship.

The client’s home is palatial, with a huge, water-sucking front and back lawns of green, lush Kentucky bluegrass, something I find disgusting in our time of drought. Flowers and shrubs border the lawn on all sides, and a tree-filled wild area sits at the back of the property. Hattie says she’s found bear poop out there before and, last spring, a swarm of bees clinging to a tree branch. She also says it’s a good place to squat and pee if you have an emergency, since we won’t be using the facilities at the house.

I ponder that for a millisecond. I don’t think so. While I’m not fearful of wildlife, I don’t want to be spied pissing in someone’s backyard.

We spend four hours weeding.

The end of the morning finds us on top of a stuccoed cement wall, pulling up ash tree seedlings.

“Damn, this bra is killing me,” says Hattie, tugging at the bottom of hers. “Women shouldn’t be trussed up like a turkey.”

When I get home I feel good, but tired. Spending most of the day out in the fresh air is wonderful.

* * *

April 20

This morning I work for another gardener. Kate is Hattie’s friend and a brilliant garden designer. She asked Hattie if she could spare someone and Hattie asked if I was interested. I know Kate and I like her; I said sure.

We labor hard at a beautiful hotel, beginning with planting five gallon shrubs all morning long.

The second task is climbing to the top of a fifteen-foot ladder leaning on a stone wall, with five-gallon buckets of soil that probably weigh about thirty pounds. We dump the soil at the top. Heights-neurotic that I am, I’m terrified at the prospect of doing this; luckily one of the younger workers, a British girl, doesn’t mind standing on the ladder while we bring the buckets to her. The fair-haired Brit has a nasty sunburn by the time we leave.

At the end of the day Kate tells me that she’ll pay me the fifteen dollars per hour, the wage Hattie gives me, but only for today. She says she’d love for me to work for her again but, in the future can only offer $12. She tells me the other women working for her, including one who is over 40 and has to drive sixty miles round trip to work each day, receive only ten dollars an hour for this back-breaking/no benefits/no healthcare work. With no hard feelings, I realize that to her, I’m just a glorified hole digger and bucket hauler. I’m not doing anything the untrained can’t do. The saddest part of it is $12 is not a bad wage, in this city, for this type of work. But it’s a survival-only wage. My husband is also a contractor, heating and air conditioning, and this is a big reason we’ve never hired anyone; it would be almost impossible to pay them decently and we couldn’t offer benefits (vacation pay, sick pay, health insurance) that we ourselves do not enjoy. I’m subcontracting out my labor as a gardener, and it’s just not going to be worth it to work for Kate again.

* * *

April 22

Today I work with the whole crew, comprised of Hattie, Jill, and two younger women who also work part time, usually on the days I’m off. We crawl over a high, rounded garden bed near a driveway, fill in the few bare spots with new perennials. I’ve only been a professional gardener for a couple of weeks and I’m still self-conscious. I’m regularly asking Hattie how she does things, what’s her technique.

The plants we put in today are bigger than usual, quart size, and we move the thick mulch and dig the holes. There’s always a significant mound of soil next to the newly planted addition, in a little pile beside the mulch.

“What should I do with all the extra soil?” I ask. I realize it’s a stupid question, but can’t help myself, everything is so meticulously groomed.

Hattie laughs out loud. “I’m going to give you an Indian name, ‘Extra Soil.’ Just smooth it around.” I’m grateful she doesn’t comment on how uptight I am.

Later she tells me how happy she is I’m working for her. She compliments everyone on a daily basis. It’s the first time I’ve experienced this behavior in a “boss,” a word Hattie hates. She refers to all of us as gardening goddesses.

* * *

April 24

Hattie doesn’t usually pick me up until 9:00, at the earliest, and we don’t get to the first garden till after 9:30. I hate getting to the job so late. It feels like I’m not getting enough done at home in the morning, and then, by the time I get home again in the afternoon, I’m worn out. I’d prefer to go out early in the morning, when it’s cooler, but Hattie says the clients don’t like us to arrive until after 9 A. M. La dee da, I think, who cares if the gardeners have to work in more uncomfortable, hotter conditions?

Hattie and I dig a new bed together at a home I hadn’t worked at before, a house they call the “Pink House” because the owner has a preference for pink flowers.

I ask her about rabbit hutches. My husband’s building one for our daughters’ new rabbit, Oscar, and I’m wondering about size. Hattie’s kept rabbits for years. She rhapsodizes about bunny manure; it’s the best, it’s low in nitrogen so can be put right in the garden and won’t burn plants.

“He should make it big,” she says of the hutch, while popping out a dandelion.

“It is.” I rip out a bindweed vine.

“Real big.” She grins wickedly. “A big ass hutch.”

I laugh and echo her, “Yeah, a big ass hutch.” We snicker together under our straw hats, Heh hehheh, sounding like the female horticultural version of Beavis and Butthead.

I bought one of the leather tool belts, trying to fit in with Hattie and Jill I suspect, but I don’t like it. Every time I crouch down, a tool pokes or juts out at me. And, as a person who won’t leave home without at least some makeup on, it feels a little butch. I’ve gone back to carrying my tools in a bucket and leaving them, now and then, scattered like rose petals, on the job site.

rabbit 001 (2)

* * *

May 10

Today I’m edging a huge flower bed, going along with a shovel, slicing out pieces of sod that are creeping in too close, shaking out the grass from the soil, making a pile of Pennisetum for the compost pile. The owner doesn’t like the black plastic lawn edging so it’s all done manually. Hattie reminds me to switch legs periodically, telling me she blew out one of her knees with the shovel work.

I’m enjoying the gardening, but I can honestly say I’m not too impressed with the neighborhood. While I admire much of the architecture and all of the beauty, it all seems too big, much too big, for so few people. I had a brief experience with poverty as a child. After my mom and dad divorced, my twenty-something mom, me (then seven years old), and three younger siblings lived on welfare for a few years. We drank reconstituted powdered milk, ate “govm’t” cheese and canned chicken. Once we received Christmas presents through a charity, including (this was the early 1970s), a used stuffed animal, a donkey. The donkey was adorable but I remember being repulsed. Spending a winter using an outhouse and sharing heated bathwater in a big metal tub by a fireplace is something that only sounds romantic. And you never forget. Seeing all this entitlement and grandiose living feels like a cockle-burr, snagged on the hem of my worn out jeans, prickling me now and again.

* * *

(Stay tuned for Part II next week.)

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To All the Lusty Gardeners: Fifty Shades of Green Interview with Publisher Sandra Knauf

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Well, here I am, interviewing myself for a press release I put together for Fifty Shades of Green last fall. (When you hear self-publishers wear a lot of hats, that is the truth!) I was going to share this interview back with you then, but other things came up and it got stuck in the Drafts folder here on WordPress. Since the film of the other Fifty Shades book is out, I thought now might be a good time.

If you haven’t bought a copy of my book yet, you’re in luck. We have a special going on now – retail price is $15.95, sale price is $12.95 (and it looks like Amazon has taken another dollar off from there). Don’t delay; the savings will not get better than this! Here’s the link!

—Sandra Knauf

And Now . . . the Interview

What brought this book about? It started as a joke. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and was shocked. Not by the BDSM sex, but by the inequality in the relationship. I thought: This is what women find sexy? The story had no basis in reality and the heroine was the “submissive”—in bed, in experience, and economically and socially. What’s sexy about that?

I talked to friends and saw most had the same reaction. At first I thought it would be funny to do a parody, a novel with a female protagonist who was older and a billionaire, someone who had all the power in society, and in the bedroom, who would mete out discipline to a virginal, college-aged male love interest. But after exploring that idea, I found it didn’t hold my interest. So the idea changed to a collection of stories.

Where did the gardening theme come from? Gardening had to be a theme. It’s my personal passion and it’s the subject of all my publishing work. Plus, the garden is the perfect setting for sexual encounters. Non-gardeners may not know this, but the garden is a sexy, fruitful, lustful place. And besides, women and gardens have shared an intimate relationship since the beginning; starting, one could say, with Eve.

Can you tell us about the writers? I fell in love with all the writers. Most are seasoned erotica writers and avid gardeners, so they know what they’re writing about in both departments. Several are men, and it was wonderful to have that perspective; two of the writers are from Britain, and I found that thrilling as the British are known for their mad gardening skills. Another writer’s the editor for a regional gardening magazine, and one graduated from Harvard Law School. There’s an exciting diversity in styles and backgrounds.

Do you have a background in the erotica genre? No, and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the genre before I started this project. But I learned, and I read some of the best work out there, and the more I learned the greater my respect for the genre grew. This is my feeling on the subject: sexuality is one of the most important, powerful, and certainly one of the most beautiful aspects of our existence and the way it’s treated is sad. We have a culture where sex=porn and that is just not so. There needs to be a return to honoring sexuality and lovemaking. Placing sexuality in a dark, forbidden place breeds a lot of society’s ills.

How do you feel erotica fits into today’s literature and why is it becoming so popular? I feel that readers are looking for deeper connections, and when you have access to a character’s sexuality, you see the whole person. I think this is the reason TV shows have become more sexual—not for the titillation, though that can be a part of it, but because we want fully-developed characters. In a big way, A Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert validated this book project for me. Here was a story, from a respected author, about a virginal woman in the 1800s obsessed with studying, of all things, mosses. There’s a lot about horticulture and history and becoming a fully-realized human being, but Gilbert also explored her protagonist’s sexuality. It was enthralling, reading about this character’s sexual awakening and her desires.

What surprised you most about the stories you received? The imagination, and the heart. Eros is the god of love and where the word erotica originates, and there is a joy and a depth in these stories that goes far beyond the sex act. In pornography there is no heart; it’s only about the stimulation. I found myself moved by some of the stories, such as “Pulse of the Earth,” a healing love story between two men. “Love Lies Bleeding” is so beautifully written it took my breath away, and “Phallus Impudicus” is high comedy. “The Judgment of Eric” is a riddle. There are a couple of stories where love potions figure in and that’s always fun, both from an adult “fairy tale” perspective and from a psychological standpoint. The collection is a mix of many aspects of the sexual psyche.

Did you have a favorite? Yes and no. I hand-picked them all, and I love them all, but there are a few that are special to me. I won’t name my favorites, but what’s funny is they changed during the editorial process. One story I read aloud recently and just went, “Wow. I think this is my favorite.” I also find it interesting that there’s no consensus among those who’ve read the book. This tells me there’s something for everyone.

Do you garden? (And do you think gardening’s sexy?) Can I scream, “Oh YESSSS!”? I have been an obsessed gardener for over two decades, when we first bought a home that had a yard. I went through master gardener training twice, the second time as a refresher course. I remember the first cottage garden I saw. I was 19 and my soon-to-be husband and I were house-sitting for his brother and his wife. Victoria and Danny had little money but they had an amazing garden: chickens and flowers, a vegetable garden, fruit trees in barrels, a tiered strawberry bed. This was in Colorado in the 1980s and enjoying this humble yet wildly productive and beautiful garden I thought, “This is paradise. I want to do this one day.” And I did.

As far as sex and the garden go, there is no place sexier. Flowers are the sex organs of plants, you know. They are beautiful and many emit intoxicating perfumes. If you have a flower garden and a vegetable garden, you have an orgy going on during the spring and summer, right in your backyard! The bees and butterflies are pollinating, the flowers are cross-pollinating. It’s amazing. You’re surrounded by sex.                                                                                                                                                                                         

P. S. I thought you might find it amusing that the pose and setting for my press kit photo was inspired by one of my favorite garden writers—that true champion of organic growing, Ruth Stout! I love her so! It I wrote about her life last year in a mini-bio that you can read either in Greenwoman #5 or in the Kindle publication, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout.

Thank you, Ruth. Your sexy good humor was just what I was looking for.

My sultry and sensual garden mentor, Ruth Stout. Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?

I imagine Ruth Stout thought this photo funny and suggestive of a “roll in the hay” with the author of books on straw mulch gardening!
(Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?)

And, once more, the link to buy yourself (or your lusty gardening pal/s) a copy. You know they make great gifts, too!

Poppy FInal June 17 copy

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Fifty Shades of Green

Poppy FInal June 17 copy

 

 

Some of you know about the adults-only publishing adventure I’ve been on this spring and summer, Fifty Shades of Green.  It’s a book project that started out as a feminist answer to the famous/notorious novel Fifty Shades of Grey, but then turned into a one-of-a-kind collection of erotic and literary gardening stories. (With a feminist bent, of course.)

I wanted to announce today that while we’re still a week or so from having the paperback book available, Zora and I have managed to get five individual stories available on Kindle as of today. I am also offering a FREE sample story, “Phallus Impudicus,” for those who sign up for the Fifty Shades of Green newsletter. (Look to the top right of this blog to sign up or go to the Garden Shorts website.)

For those of you with full in-boxes, I’m offering, temporarily, this link to read the story on the Garden Shorts webpage. It’s a hidden page so it doesn’t show up on the site. You’ll only be able to access it through this special link, here.

But, I’d encourage you to sign up for the newsletter. There won’t be a lot of “mail” and through the newsletter you’ll learn more about the project, its authors, have access to discounts and special offers, etc.

We may have the entire book available on Kindle as a digital download as early as today. For those of you who don’t have a Kindle device, you don’t need one; you can download a reader-app from Amazon and read it right off of your computer. It’s easy-peasy!

If you choose to indulge in any of these stories, please let me know what you’ve sampled and what you think! (And it would be great if you told your friends about it, too.)

The second part of this post is about our story covers. While I hope to connect with gardeners and aspiring gardeners through this project we realize there’s a huge erotica market out there and those readers might be  interested in this book.

With that in mind, Zora thought we should create some “sexy lady” covers. My idea was having covers that feature some kind of provocative-looking fruit, veggie, or flower, like the poppy bud on the book’s cover. We talked it over and I sided with the fresh vision of youth; we’d try the sexy ladies. And I realized that this produce/floral idea might only catch on with gardeners.

So, among other things, we spent all week making covers and formatting individual stories and the book.

You’ll can see three of the covers—and stories—on Amazon if you type in “Fifty Shades of Green.”

For the additional two stories: “The Education of a French Gardener” is here. “First, Take Off the Hoodie” is here.

I have no idea why these two don’t come up through the author or editor’s name. Yet another glitch to fix!  There are many in self-publishing. It is anything but easy-peasy.

Now for my cover story. This week I made the cover for “The Judgment of Eric.” It’s a story about a gardener who gets the attention of two Greek Gods, Apollo and Dionysus. They appear in his garden and compel him to participate in a contest—a contest in which Eric will decide which god is the better lover! It’s sexy, wildly imaginative, and homoerotic. (We have three homoerotic stories in the twelve story collection.)

I tried to think of a good image and finally came up with this one. It’s from an ancient Greek amphora (jar).

 

I thought it was art, Amazon thinks it's pornographic.

I thought it was art. Amazon thinks it’s pornographic.

 

Last night I was notified this cover was rejected as pornographic. I disagree, but I adapted it. (And then we all had a good laugh.) Now I don’t know if this one will be rejected, too, but to me it’s  more suggestive. Such is the nature of censorship.

 

 

I don't know, is this "better"?

I don’t know, is this “better”?

 

I hope you’ll take a peek!

—Sandra Knauf

 

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The Devil Wears Converse, Revisited

I'll admit that lately I've been wearing moccasins, but I''ll never lose my love for the Chuck Taylors.

Chuck  Taylors forever.

 

Let’s call it Throwback Friday.

This week I went through my first blog, Greenwoman Zine, looking for posts about starting my business. Words that described not only the process but my feelings about why I’m doing what I’m doing. By that, I mean sacrificing dollars, time, and sanity in an attempt to be a publisher in this genre of literature I love most—garden writing.

I found what I needed. Oh, how much more starry-eyed I was back then! Every victory was huge. Every discovery was full of sparkly-specialness.

Would I trade now for then? Today I would say yeah, probably. But ask me in a month or a year and it could be a very different story. I hope so. That’s why I keep on keeping on.

I’m sharing this old post because I thought you might find it amusing, and this week I’m revisiting the agony of straddling the gulf of business while wearing the hats of creator and “boss.” I’ve always felt I was a teacher, and at times a good leader, but being a boss is a very different manner. To be a boss, it sometimes seems that there has to be an inflation of ego (that I cannot muster) combined with a talent to firmly deal with those you’d prefer to tell to (insert imaginative insult here). That, too, is a skill I do not possess. So it’s a struggle and often I wonder if the Grace and Anna (you will read about them below) will ever be in balance.

* * *

 

(This essay first appeared in Greenwoman Zine on June 14, 2011.)

At the end of last summer I watched the documentary September Issue with my daughter Lily. While I’m not a huge fan of haute couture (and Lily is) I appreciate the art of fashion and I’ve always dug Vogue‘s articles.

I’d also seen, and loved, The Devil Wears Prada, so I had a preconceived notion or two about the subject of the documentary, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. The Devil Wears Prada portrayed her as 1) shockingly insensitive to others’ feelings, and, 2) cruel and boundary-less when it came to using employees for personal needs. If you think about it, those were her only “crimes;” but for a woman they are felonies.

After watching The September Issue, about the time I started my own magazine, I didn’t come away with a negative impression of Anna Wintour. I, instead found myself in complete awe of her abilities. She also seemed a soft-serve version of the icy Prada-lady, but, then again, who knows the “truth”? Like any art, films are subjective. Though I was in awe of Wintour, I identified with Vogue’s Art Director, Grace Coddington. Coddington, a brilliant photographer and stylist, was fun, a bit impish, and she didn’t give a shit about being a fashion plate herself (defiantly wearing her signature black clothing, which Wintour had declared “out,” and comfortable sandals instead of de rigueur high fashion high heels). Most admirably, Coddington was fearless about questioning Wintour’s editorial decisions. This is what I connected with most—that questioning of authority, as that has been a major theme in my life.

It fascinates me how the “establishment” and the “movement” work against (yet ultimately for) one another—the establishment seeking to thwart evolution, the movement always pushing for it. That dynamic is clear in the film. Coddington (and other artists) push, Wintour reigns them in, yet also engages in the process (and progress). She evaluates and edits the forward push, serving both establishment and movement.

My surprise, recently, was to see my own shift. I now identify more with Anna Wintour—though I actually shook my head while typing those words, as it is such a newly emergent part of my personality.

Here’s how my sympathy for the devil came about.  Now I’m doing basically what Wintour does, though, obviously, at a much different level. The point is I’ve become the person who must make decisions. I’m answerable to everything, which is, ultimately, the success or failure of my publishing work. As this enterprise has progressed I’ve come to the point where I’ve learned a single all-important lesson: I simply cannot, must not, fuck around. The magazine comes first. Emotional stuff gets in the way. Decisions must be made quickly and clear-headedly. If something isn’t working, it must be fixed, or dispensed with, immediately.

This is tough. In the last month I’ve had to 1) reject a small piece of art that I asked, as a favor, to be created from someone I didn’t know well—and then deal with a mini-temper tantrum from the artist; 2) find another writer, at the eleventh hour, to replace one who couldn’t fulfill her obligation; 3) make the decision to try to design the entire magazine myself, adding more weeks of training and work to my already overloaded plate, not to mention setting the publication date back a few weeks; 4) consider advice from a person notable in the garden/education field who wrote me suggesting that I should abandon my idea of a subscription magazine  and, instead, create a free online publication (having faith the advertisers will come!); and, most harrowing, 4) go through a grant interview in which I had to lay my last 15-20 years of of a life immersed in art, gardening, and writing soul-bare, in order to try to make this project easier on me and my family financially.

All of these trials have had emotional costs, and my decisions had to be made quickly and on a single criteria—what I believe is best for the publication, and, by association, me.  I surprised myself on how efficiently and quickly I met each challenge. As I told a friend, I could not have done the things I am doing now ten years ago.

Some of those trials were painful but the only one that really shook me was the grant interview. Although the people conducting it were wonderfully friendly, receptive, and genuinely engaged in my story, and the questions put to me were perfect, I have never felt so naked and vulnerable as then, sharing my hopes, dreams, motivations. The hardest part was doing it  in a context that  felt, ultimately, like begging. Please approve of me, what I’ve put my heart and soul into for the last  two decades! Please consider my vision worthy! Won’t you slice off a little slice of that tasty philanthropic pie for my art? Later that day I wept while working in the garden, feeling angry at what I perceived as failure—that I didn’t have enough money myself to do things without asking for help. I was also angry that I had to expose my soul and ask for my worth to be validated.

My anger was soon replaced by defiance. At one point during the interview I was asked if I’d “accept less than I requested.” Immediately I chirped, “Sure!” Later, I thought, I’ve put in a lot of hours of work and have been through a lot of hoops doing this, endless weeks of waiting around, and I’m going to have to jump through more hoops if I get the award. My friend Edie once joked that we had the same personalities, we were like the little mouse that gives the hawk the one finger salute just as it’s about to be swooped upon and devoured. Hence my next thought: If I don’t get what I applied for, well, then, I don’t want any of it. It’s not worth it.

I know I may happily eat humble pie regarding that little proclamation. It won’t be the first time. Whether it would be selling out, or wisdom, or a bit of both, I’m not sure. What I do know is the very next day I went to the bank and took out a loan—and I felt better.

Last week my horribly unfashionable old pink Converse shoes were showing their wear. Faded, a couple of holes, unfit for wearing in public, though I was still doing just that. I have a weird attachment to this brand of shoes; it’s not just comfort—they also symbolize the girl-me who lives strongly still, who got her first pair (white) at age 11, and the whole rock ’n roll/Coddington-appetite for defiance. Lily, out shopping with me and somewhat scandalized by my lack of good taste (her inner Anna Wintour always in dominance), remarked when I gleefully spotted a new pair for $25:  “Mom, you’re almost 50, when are you going to stop wearing those?”

“When I’m 90.”

At home I showed my husband my new shoes and took the old ones to the trash. He asked, “Aren’t you going to save those, to garden in?”

“Hell no,” I said. “I’m wearing my new ones.”

Anna Wintour is rising, but I’m glad the Grace in me is still going strong.

—Sandra

* * *

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