Mother Earth Living

Feel at Home in your Garden

Some people go through life battling dirt inside their houses and other people befriend it. One writer has never felt more at home than she does in her garden.
By Robin Chotzinoff
July/August 1999
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A home is where you battle dirt; a garden is where you make friends with it. For me, there’s no contest. I side with dirt. Although there are three sharp kitchen knives I miss terribly whenever I’m traveling, and those knives live in a drawer inside, everything else that speaks to me of home is ­outside. In the garden, my actual home.

Home is:

A Mess. I never finish anything. In my home office, this ­tendency produces piles of paper I itch to toss—but what if a crucial tax document lurks within? At the edge of my peren­nial beds it means more piles, this time of dirt, of moldy hay, of llama manure, of wood chips—or whatever else I’ve had the good luck to scavenge. I may or may not put these piles to “work.” But so what? They earn their keep simply by ­sitting there.

Unscheduled. Here in Colorado, I hear it’s important to plant sweet peas as soon as the soil can be worked. Therefore, I either do that or I don’t, and neither I nor my yard is ever the worse. There is a lot to do on my land, and my plan has never been more complicated than to do some of it. Oddly, whatever disorder this produces has usually sprung to life, in a robust way, by June.

Compatible with a Rich Fantasy Life. Or the inner script that runs in my head constantly. As I sit down at the com­puter, for instance, I may hear: “Here I am being Louisa May Alcott, unless I’m more like Thomas Jefferson today—or am I Fran Lebowitz?” A writer can be beaten into block-dom by such musings, but the outdoors are more forgiving, expecting no ­follow-through at all. While roaming my three acres, I allow myself to be Thomas Jefferson, again, envisioning orchards, stone walls, and rare botanical specimens as far as the eye can see. Or I slap my knee-boot with a rusty machete as I scramble through the underbrush—over-brush?—and imagine I’m Sir Joseph Banks exploring Roratonga. My garden, which never benefits from any of my fantasies, has no problem with them, either.

The Source of Much Dinner. Strawberries, tomatoes, rhubarb, and other juicy red things. Lettuce, mesclun, and snap peas. Basil and eggplant. A garden without edibles, in my opinion, is no garden at all.

Where I Make Out like a Bandit. Because when it comes to flowers—and motor vehicles, and bacon, and romance— the Chotzinoff theory has always been MORE IS BETTER. When Safeway is selling a skimpy half-dozen iris for $6.49, I’m out collecting armloads for free, cackling with avarice as I do. A garden without tons of flowers is no garden, either.

Devoid of Pink. No pink at all. I hate pink, and it’s MY ­garden.

The Whole Human Drama Played Out in My Backyard. The agony of frostbound winter giving way to spring, giving way to too many zucchini, giving way to the grief-striking sight of the first frost-blasted tomato. I would love to think I could garden without all this tension, longing, and consummation—but I couldn’t, ever. Given a Southern California garden, I think I would slump to the ground and slowly rot from boredom.

A Reflection of Me. Not unlike my younger daughter, who already evinces an interest in plants and flowers—she eats them, anyway—and has inherited my straw-like bed-head hair, blue eyes, and crooked nose, my garden is growing to resemble me. We are both slobby and disorganized and—permit me to hope—look great in shades of blue.

A Reflection of Itself. The garden refuses to suck up to me. Sometimes it will eradicate every trace of something magnificent I planted. Or parts will suddenly dry up and crack like an old leather shoe. Sometimes, when I stick in a spade in spring,

I hit a band of ice or rock. But for this I have only respect, and once in a great while I am rewarded by a drift of something wonderful, like the larkspurs that migrated from a neighbor’s yard, perhaps transported in a bulletproof cowpie, and took root where I can see them from the car as my front wheels hit the driveway.

Cool, I think. Home.

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