on gardening

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    An Enduring Crop Paid Member

    I remember that late spring morning about seven years ago, working in the lower fields of Green Gulch Farm, harvesting rainbow chard for our local food bank with a group of elementary school students from San Francisco. The kids were fanned out in a rainbow arc themselves, spanning the field, chattering as they harvested crates of greens. One child, a pale and strangely mute boy of about ten, wandered away from his classmates to stand alone at the edge of the field, where farm irrigation sprinklers were watering the next line of crops. The May morning was warm, without a breath of wind. I watched as the child took his place in the back-mist of the irrigation jets, holding his thin, white hands out to the soft hiss of water. “He’s a new boy,” the classroom teacher whispered, following my gaze. “From Bosnia. He never says a word.” More »
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    The Breakdown Ball Paid Member

    These days I am obsessed with poop. Poop and rot. Walking the narrow trail that traverses the autumn headlands, I pause to break apart the dry scat of raccoon and grey fox to see what they’ve been dining on. In the garden I know the stellar jays are robbing the raspberries by their loose splatter of red-seeded stool. And there’s no better way to warm up in the morning than by shoveling hot horse manure into our vintage Apache pickup. In autumn we build compost with a vengeance. Long windrows of twisted sunflower stalks, smashed pumpkins, and blackened vines of fingerling potatoes are stacked under blankets of hot manure. In a few days the piles begin to smoke with decay on the fringe of the garden. Rot rules the windswept land. More »
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    Non-Zen Elements Paid Member

    I MET MY TAPROOT garden teacher, Alan Chadwick, twenty-six years ago at the end of his life. He had less than six months to live and he knew it. He was a gaunt, kingly man, seventy-one years old and impossibly handsome. A mixture of Old Testament prophet and renegade monk in the tradition of Ikkyu, Alan inhabited the still-fiery body and mind of an aristocratic mad English gardener and a Shakespearean actor. Although prostate cancer was ravaging his body, Alan had come home to Green Gulch not to die but to live out and teach his remaining days. More »
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    Up from Bedrock Paid Member

    IN AUTUMN, when the wide lap of the land is littered with overripe pippin apples and bone-dry cornstalks rattle in the churlish wind, my mind drops down to bedrock and the significant life of soil. There is no better time to cultivate the ground than in the equinoctial seasons, when light and dark dance cheek to cheek and September rain softens the ground. “You open the earth to starlight,” my garden teacher Alan Chadwick often reminded us when he spoke about cultivating the garden, “and induce a capacity for breath in the soil.” The word soil has deep etymological roots. It derives from the Latin solium, which means “seat” or “throne” and also solum, meaning “ground” or “base.” Dig further and you find the Indo-European verbal root sed, which means “to sit, settle down on the ground,” a fine autumnal practice. More »
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    Gardening at the Green Dragon's Gate Paid Member

    Every spring I receive my best gardening instruction from walking along the edge of our cultivated farmland. I walk just inside the fields, right up against the nine-foot-high deer fence, running my hand over the woven wire as I go. On this ragged borderline, I am forced to slow down. Sometimes I walk so slowly I can close my eyes. I smell the wild pennyroyal mint rising out of the wet eye sockets of small mountain springs just outside the fence. On the rim of these springs grows fetid adder’s tongue, Scoliopus bigelovi, thrusting its ill-scented flowers into the new spring air. The stench of rotting meat hovers over the strange, brown-speckled blooms as they uncurl, luring the flies that will pollinate them. I can feel the slow water of the pennyroyal springs seep out of the hillside and saturate the farm soil on my side of the fence. A good place for summer leeks, I tell myself. The mountain will keep the land wet well past June. More »
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    Apocalypse Landscapes Paid Member

    My husband Peter and I were married in the Green Gulch meditation hall on April 18, 1976, exactly seventy years after the great San Francisco earthquake. We treasure our April 18th anniversary—it always reminds us not to get too settled down or routinized in married life. Every year we do something special on our day, just the two of us. No zazen, no kids, and absolutely no work allowed in our various overpampered gardens. This year we went for a long romantic walk across an abandoned landfill dump. More »