The Daily Muse

A  Garden Journal -- July 2006

Last Update: July 25

Basho and Issa napping.  Cats really know how to sleep.

July 9 - evening

I have to apologize for being absent from these pages for a few weeks... we have been experiencing "technical difficulties" with our home computer. To be honest I am not sure that they are resolved yet, but at least we were able to get the software up and running today, so here goes...

Since I last wrote, I have been working nearly around the clock to keep the garden weeded, watered, trimmed, and fertilized. There have been many showers in our area, but our garden has missed nearly all of them. Regardless of that, my efforts seem to be paying off and things look relatively fresh despite the season. All of the work I have been doing has given me a good deal of time to think about the nature of the actual "practice" of gardening. Why, for example, do I spend countless hours in the unrelenting heat  grubbing about on my hands and knees only to keep the garden clear of spurge? In deed, with all of the problems in the world, why do I even bother pulling weeds when there are things of much greater import that are yanking at my conscience? I frequently compare gardening to a kind of dementia, especially when practised in the kind of depressingly brutal climate that I find myself gardening in. However, afflictions aside, there is also a rather perverse sense of pride when you are able to beat the odds and create something of even fleeting beauty.

A week or two ago, my yoga instructor challenged my class to pour all of our attention and intention into our practice, and yet not to take it too seriously... to find the balance between attachment and detachment, devotion and indifference. He referenced the Tibetan Buddhist practice of creating elaborate sand mandalas, those incredibly detailed works of art, that, upon completion, are swept into piles and deposited in mountain lakes. In the following days, I could not help but think of my garden as a sand mandala - a work of art that will inevitably find its own way to dissolve in time and surrender to spurge. And yet, at every opportunity, I don my wide brimmed hat and set out for the baking heat ready to do my own version of sand arranging.

An unknown Zen master once said, "Enlightenment is simply this: When I walk, I walk. When I eat, I eat. When I sleep, I sleep." Perhaps the reason that I garden is that I can truly say that when I garden, I garden. I really do surrender to it and give it my all. And still, like the creators of the sand mandalas, I remind myself that like all human endeavors, this too will pass - what matters is not whether my garden persists or fades away, but the actual act of devotion required to create it and help it grow.

Today, I spent several hard, hot hours working in the garden. Tonight, I hope to sleep when I sleep.

July 18 - morning

Rudbeckia "Goldstrum"

I celebrated my fiftieth birthday this past week-end and had the great pleasure of being surrounded by friends and family, including my sister who paid a surprise visit from North Dakota! Yesterday, I took the day off and spent it working in the garden and swimming at Barton Springs, Austin's in-town, spring fed, swimming hole. The cold water was just what the doctor ordered in the face of our current heat wave.

The garden continues to look pretty good considering the heat and lack of rain. We have many hummingbirds and butterflies to enliven things and I passed a few quiet moments enjoying their company yesterday morning before things heated up too much. Here are a few new pictures...


Gulf Frittilary butterfly on salvia.


Amazing details...


Chubster, the feral cat who is the real king of our garden.


"Aussie Plume" Curcuma - one of the  "hidden" gingers.


An abstract shot from downtown Austin - taken while I was on a shoot for KLRU profiling award winning new architecture.

July 25 - morning

Morning visitor.

It has been dreadfully hot for the past few weeks, but not unusually so for Texas. Certainly not like the record heat waves affecting the rest of the nation. However, the ground is so dry that cracks are forming in the flower beds and in our gravel walk-ways. There is the promise of some relief in the form of a tropical disturbance that is moving towards us from the Gulf of Mexico - I am keeping my  fingers crossed for some much-needed heavy rain. (Rain dances commence now!)

Despite the heat, I have been gardening like a mad man.... cleaning up  some beds, weeding, watering, and somehow I got the crazy idea to do some planting. As soon as it turns light outside I am going to try to finish a new raised planting bed that will be home to a Desert Willow, a small native flowering tree. I bought a named cultivar called "Brandy" that has orchid-like magenta blooms. We are hoping the tree will grow quickly and provide a little shade on an east facing wall that is blasted by the morning sun. (And I am hoping my new addition will be in the ground just in time for some rain.)

When I was creating the bed I realized just how deep my gardening affliction runs - it was over 100 degrees outside and I was hauling and cutting the large blocks of limestone that I was using to trim out the bed. After that, I had to loosen the hard-packed granite where the bed was going in with a pick axe. I was doing all of this in the middle of the day in the full sun. A friend stopped by while I was in full frenzy - covered in lime dust and dripping with sweat - all he could do was shake his head and say, "Man, you've got it bad."

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