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Garden Daze



In the heat of yesterday's afternoon I took a break and sat on the back porch enjoying the view. Cool season grasses, blue fescue and feather reed grass, have turned a soft buff color, their panicles swaying in the breeze. Seed heads forming on the spring bloomers give me renewed reasons to love each plant for the brown figurines atop the stems and the treasure of seeds lying within the capsules. Hollyhocks stand ten feet tall, flowering stalks silhouetted by slowly swirling white cumulus clouds and the massive rock face of Pikes Peak. Time stands still. While it does, I luxuriate in the delicious illusion that the garden is perfect and there's nothing to do.

After dozing off to the sound of bees humming in the borage, I awaken to the squawks of fledgling crows in a nearby pine tree begging for food from their parents. Recharged by the short nap, I remember one item on my diminishing "to do" list which cannot wait another day. I am nervous because I need to perform a transplant operation I've never done before. I must move six one-foot-tall snapdragon plants, with bulging buds, from my nursery bed up to the peak view garden. There's a big gap in a very visible part of the garden left by sweet williams which bloomed themselves into oblivion this spring.

On my walk down to the nursery beds, I think back to the discovery and birthing of these healthy plants. Last November I was thrilled to find an all-white seed strain, a cultivar named 'Helen Weibull' in the Cook's Garden seed catalog. On January 22 I sowed 30 seeds in the greenhouse, coddled them along, pinched them back twice to make them bushier, then planted 15 five-inch tall plants outdoors into the nursery beds in May. I love the fresh sparkle white flowers create in our wild, late-summer garden, and can't wait to see the blooms on these snapdragon spikes. Will the white color be pure and mix well with everything? Or, will the color be muddied with yellow or pink?

Moving large plants is tricky. Tiny roots settled into the earth will be torn when the plant is moved. With fewer roots to support the foliage and emerging buds, I fear I might lose all the succulent buds covering the plants. The first indication of this will be limp buds by morning. Determined not to let this happen, I know I must work quickly so the roots are not exposed to the air for long. I cut the earth around the plants to create as large a root ball as possible, then carefully place the plant in a nursery pot and carry it up the hill. I'd already dug the new hole for the plant, added compost, and drenched it with water. My heart races as my hands wrap around the large, heavy root ball. I exhale and lift, transferring the plant into the hole. Grabbing the hose I quickly saturate the soil with water, working soil in around the roots that I imagine are gasping for dark, wet soil. I stand back for a moment looking proudly at the first plant which appears to have weathered the move. Then I remember: five more plants to go.

With summer in full swing and the urgency of spring plantings and waterings mostly over, I find myself with more time to lounge. As our gardens expanded over eight years to cover three acres, each outdoor garden "room" evolved to include a place to sit or lie down. Garden building on this scale is a lot of work, especially in the first few years because it feels like you are planting trees and shrubs for some later generation. It's also a lot of work because we live in a mountain desert where care must be taken to amend soils with organic materials, and then cover these areas with mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. Since all the work is being done by two nuts nearing 50, the resting places throughout the gardens -- hammocks, porch chairs, benches -- are getting more frequent use. Eroding lower backs, crinkly joints, neck kinks all appreciate the benefits of occasional rests in the garden.

In the cool evening air I dig the remaining five plants and carry them up the hill to the peak view garden one at a time. Glad to see all six plants snuggled into place and looking fine, I head out to the gazebo hammock to enjoy the sounds and scents of nightfall. I crawl tired into the hammock, positioning the pillow under my head to see sunset's last streaks in the sky. Hummingbirds zing around, bats swoop for night moths, the jasmine scent of nicotiana floats on the warm breeze, the hammock sways, and my thoughts drift and swirl as night wraps her silky arms around me.

by Laura Spear

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