Kage Baker took enormous pride and comfort in gardening. At heart, she was an Entwife. Gardening was what she went out and did when she was bored; when she was depressed; when she was mired in writer’s block. It was how she challenged oncoming autumn and the last days of winter, going forth to cultivate under grey skies and daring them to rain on her.
Which they did. Frequently. But her ability to stare a storm down for a few hours let us get a lot of roses pruned and vegetables planted early in the season. I was along for the donkey work, and to engage in brain storming as Kage harrowed the cold earth and her mind at the same time.
I liked our gardens just fine, but … I am not much of a gardener. Hauling wheelie bins or watering on someone else’s careful schedule are more my style. I am paramount at standing around and keeping a gardener company; I’m even better at sitting on the porch and shouting advice. I’m not as good at shovelling and digging as I used to be, nor at mowing the lawn – which was one of my favourite activities for years – but now we don’t have to mow the front lawn at all. It’s covered in redwood mulch.
But I want to garden. I think it might be important to the writing, this year.
Since I can’t do much in the way of useful labour, and there is only so much superintendence available, I’ve been contributing to the physical inventory. The wrought iron fence for the front yard has been bought in sections, carried home in the way-back of my PT Cruiser, and hammered into place by nephew Mike. I’ve ordered seed catalogs, and am mail-ordering interesting veggies and native plants. Xeriscaping doesn’t necessarily mean succulents and cactus, Dear Readers: there are many drought-resistant California plants that blossom copiously. Penstemon, sage, fuschias, ceanothus, and both matilija and California poppies all flower gloriously; herbs like thyme and camomile spread perfume more actively the more you walk on them.
Even roses are, technically, a California plant: that is, a rose grows here naturally … and if I plant lush old-fashioned Cecile Brunner and Wenlock roses, instead of the 6-petalled wild pink Rosa californica; well – they’re still roses, right? I’ll hand-water ’em just as frugally.
The inspiration Kimberly and I are following is The Lord of the Rings – not Rivendell, nor the homely Shire, nor gold-roofed, gold-floored Lothlorien, though. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate, kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness. That’s our goal.
This seems to me to be a model of fertility that is custom-made for my needs and habits. I do my best work with a high wind blowing, and the sound of hoof beats in the distance. I thrive on edges and incoming tides. Like the rosemary and blue sage I hope to plant, a little chaos encourages my blooming. You can’t expect to colour inside the lines with flowers.
Writing needs a dose of wildness, too. For me, 2015 was a lot like the unrelenting drought that has kept poor panting California pinned to the arid ground: there’s not been enough sustenance to keep us going, and what little we do have keeps gushing away out of burst pipes. I ended the year with my reserves gone, my reservoirs shrunk away from the shores of creativity to reveal the beer cans and rusted rebar in the cracking mud of dessicated inspiration. That last turgid line is perfect proof of it, in fact.
But the ground water seems to be slowly returning. There’s snow on the heights; there is rain on the ground. Infant rosemary bushes now line the new wrought iron of the garden fence. My agent wrote to me today, coyly hinting at new deals being negotiated with The Pow’rs, aaarr, of the publishing Admiralty.
I woke up in the night with the realization that my blue squirrels need tracking chips. Also, with the idea that the reproductive habits of Oxytricha trifallax hold interest as a story idea – a combinatio0n of changeling stories and weaponized Lamarkism. I actually began making the last editing changes on Knight and Dei, in preparation to sending it off.
I don’t garden the way Kage did, but I know how to do more than just dig a hole and throw in some seeds – I know how to select likely plants. I know how to water, and feed, and prune.
New gardens can grow with so little encouragement …