In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Even certain weeds are welcome in my garden.

In Spite of All Odds

My garden is located downstairs from my office, which is on the main street in Brisbane. The garden is an entryway of the old office building and has four raised beds made of brick that are filled with soil. When I moved into the building in 2000, there were only a few scrawny jade plants, an aeonium of mammoth proportions, and a monstera in the far back bed. I was surprised that a monstera could thrive with so little light, but it had obviously been thriving on neglect for many years.

I asked the landlord if he would mind if I did a little gardening, since it was obvious that nobody had taken any interest in the area for years. He granted permission and so my garden came to life.

The first thing I did was clean out all the beds, add copious amounts of organic compost, and plant shade-loving tropicals and annuals. It took many hours of digging and a few trips to the nursery, but the garden looked heavenly.

However, when I came back the very next morning, every single plant was gone! I had splurged on a collection of calatheas and so the loss was not insubstantial. They had all been ripped out of the soil and stolen. Gone. I have been contending with a variety of challenges ever since.

Unneighborly Behavior
I prefer a natural-looking landscape with plants cascading over the brick walls. The landlord, however, prefers tidy, clipped edges and borders. Every so often I arrive at the office to find that my garden has been hacked with what looks like a machete. What were once arching fronds of the mother fern have been severed in half; the trailing lobelia and nasturtiums, once graceful, are shorn and stubby; and all of the flowering impatiens have been scalped along one side. It's disconcerting to find my "children" thus transformed. I always get my knickers in a twist, rant and rave for a while, and then, as time passes, forget my rage as the plants once again begin to grow. Of course the scene repeats itself all over again in a few months, but it's a scenario I have come to live with.

Because there is a local bar next door to my little garden, I try to create a lush oasis that's not too inviting. If the top edges of the brick walls are exposed, smokers from the bar perch themselves there. It's not uncommon to find my newly planted pansy borders crushed and flattened on a Monday morning. I have tried to use warfare techniques, such as placing bamboo pungi sticks along the inside edges of the brick walls, but that wasn't very successful. I now have a particularly stinky coleus called 'Dog-Gone, Scardy-Cat' growing along the border. When crushed (as in being sat upon), it emits a very strong and unpleasant skunky odor.

I have recently planted nasturtium seeds in the beds and these plants seem to be very adapted to public life. If the aggressive vines become crushed by the local patrons, or sliced by the landlord, they comes right back with gusto.

Nowadays, the garden is a collection of leftovers and orphans. The piece of ginger root from a cooking segment has taken root and produces flowers every summer. The spindly, leafless Ficus benjamina that was left out by the dumpsters in the back has now taken over the front bed. It is so large that it requires frequent pruning to keep it in bounds. All of my demised aquarium fish have been interred in the garden where, in spite of the visiting tipplers from next door, they rest in peace. Leggy and leafless indoor plants arrive on a regular basis, and all find a home tucked between the spathiphyllum or the sword ferns.

Just this morning I found an aglaonema, sans pot, resting on the surface of the soil. The nearby spathiphyllum had been yanked up by the roots and left for dead. I don't understand why chaos visits my garden on occasion, but it's an invitation for change. I'm not in control, only the caretaker, trying to make sure all my orphans are watered and made to feel welcome. In turn, they greet me at the beginning and end of every day.


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