Posted by urbansuburbanecoliteracy | Posted in Ecological Sustainability, Economic Sustainabliity, Gardens, Intragenerational & Intergenerational Social Justice, Landscaping, Social Sustainability | Posted on 05-11-2011
Rather than use hyperbole for literary effect that would lead you to believe that I’m prone to fabrication, I’m letting the story that the e-mail tells exemplify more social patterns in the extreme to make them obvious.
A few years ago, I volunteered as a consulting garden/landscape professional for the first “Gardens of Gratitude” in Los Angeles. I’d be tempted to rechristen the project-driven event if it wouldn’t be dishonoring the spirit of abundance and sharing that Devin Slavin (a classmate in Ecological Agriculture program at New College of California 1n 2005) wanted the idea of “Gardens of Gratitude” to embody. The intention behind making materials and expertise low and no-cost was to make edible sustainable gardens accessible to low-income folks, not to subsidize the acquisitive greed of the haves (who in all likelihood could afford the materials and services when they wanted to pay for them) at the expense of neglecting the have-nots in areas such as East Santa Monica, Westlake, MacArthur Park, Southcentral, Watts, or Pacoima. The opposite of gratitude isn’t ingratitude, it’s entitlement.
Entitlement is one pervasive manifestation of America’s shadow and it is what St. Teresa of Avila called a “reptile in the soul” according to Caroline Myss. Until you own your shadow aspects, they own you.
To: (e-mail addresses deleted)
Date: Sun, May 3, 2009 1:30:43 PM
Cc: (e-mail addresses deleted)
Subject: Re: Gardens of Gratitude – Thanks for signing up
Greetings Sean & All:
Thank you for welcoming us into the event. Just to let you know, our knowledge is minimal (book-learned permaculture curiosity), and being a corner lot, our blank palette is large and L-shaped. For that day, we’ve segmented off one 12×20 full-sun rectangular section of the yard to work with, and have been doing some sketches.
Our goal is to do this without spending much at all.
Uh-oh. That last sentence was a red flag.
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing when culled from a book without any grounding in experience but anchored to high expectations. The only way that this family could visually achieve the upscale “architectural” results that they strove for would be on the back(s) of whoever was generous and/or foolish enough to subsidize their enterprise. Translated, the first and second paragraphs meant: “We have high expectations shaped by ideas cherry picked from books sans application contexts and we’re hoping to siphon off good quality freebies from whomever and wherever we can get them.”
We’ve acquired some piles of free dirt (about 6 pick-up loads) that my husband has dutifully sifted. We also found some medium-sized rocks to help with berms, since our vision is to create one natural-looking elevated wall to hold in the height, with the elevation sloping down to the sidewalk and some DG pathways.
Hmmm….let’s get this straight. You want a sculpted wall and decomposed granite pathways and you want materials and labor for these features for free? There’s charity and generosity on the one hand, and then there’s milking an event for everything it is worth.
My husband wants a more drought tolerant architectural look–not an obvious food garden, so no overt raised beds. But since we have hardpan, we need to pile on the good stuff… So in our efforts to compromise, I’ll be interspersing any edibles into the schema. I will have a mini tangerine and a loquat onsite for that day, and probably tomatoes. Any other stealth edibles advice is welcome!
Can’t have an obvious food garden in full view of neighbors. It sounds oh-so untidy and low class (God forbid). What will they think? (Who gives a flying fig as long as the plants are happy and skillfully cared for? A tended, well-loved garden always looks better than a soulless, stiff planting arrangement designed to appease the neighbors and win their approval.)
Here’s where it gets interesting since the subject wanted to mingle plants that have contrasting horticultural requirements. Once established, the tangerine and loquat would probably do just fine among drought tolerant plants as long as the trees were periodically deep soaked, but tomatoes and garden variety (pun intended) edibles would not be getting their needs met among the drought tolerant plants. If the soil were watered frequently enough to satisfy the garden veggies, the drought tolerant plants would eventually succumb to fungal disease and rot. Although the couple in question might stubbornly resist following the advice they claim to want, they would have to pick either the annual edible plant palette or the perennial drought tolerant plants in lieu of conceding garden design to someone who knows what they’re doing.
Also, I think we have some snakey sand bags from Cal-Earth in the garage which can be moulded into low holding walls… TBD. That could be fun to play with!
Here’s our questions to be more ready for the day:
• BASE PREP:
All grass is gone and we’re down to the hard pan. We were thinking we would just pile the new dirt on top of that, with one side bermed, and the other sloping to the sidewalk. (The piles of dirt are a few yards away dumped on the unsolved section of the yard). We read the gardens of gratitude links about Instant No Dig Garden Beds and Double Digging… We were wondering:
– Can we drill holes into the hard clay to help make more permeable and skip the hard labor? (the carpenter has a pneumatic drill…)
– Or get out the pick-axes to loosen the hardpan (we’d rather not!!!)
– Should we have cardboard onsite to place on top of hardpan (as we saw on the Mar Vista Garden tour last week)? Or is that just for lawn-suppression?
– Any other prep tips we should know about?
I’m not going to comment on what they could have done more specifically about that alleged hardpan because I don’t know enough about their prospective garden site. This family didn’t specifically request a site analysis and I wasn’t about to volunteer one for known takers. Without that site analysis, more specific comments would be conjecture.
That said, there’s a possibility that lugging in the 6 pickup truckloads of soil and then sifting it (Why? To cull stones or remove glass?) on relatively short notice was a waste of effort because these folks were working under the incorrect premise and assumption that they have “bad” soil. I haven’t a clue why this mystifying judgment is prevalent. Los Angeles has buried some of the most fertile agricultural soils in the world under endlessly contiguous miles of asphalt and concrete. It’s not the soil’s fault that it’s been abused for almost a century. Hardpan due to compaction and ignorance is one of the least of the wounds inflicted on this land. If this family had not gotten greedy about availing themselves of freebies and if they had been patient enough to allow sufficient lead time working in tandem with the rhythm of the seasons without compulsively feeding their addiction to instant gratification, it would have been possible to use organic methods to condition that “hardpan” so that the soil would have been workable.
Drilling holes in the soil? I wonder if this carpenter and his wife ever considered that drill bits manufactured for wood aren’t made to bore holes in soil and 2) the inevitability that the drill bits (he’ll go through a lot of them) would strike unseen pebbles and rocks buried in the fill. Oops.
So many people find the idea of prolific, beautiful gardens bursting with color and life alluring and yet they’re not willing to put their backs into the effort of planting and maintaining them. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In spite of the eternal nature of this truth, people look for ways to circumvent the effort if they can’t get someone else to do the hard work for them for free (i.e. Gardens of Gratitude volunteers) or, if need be, for cheap. (The quick excuse at the ready is “I don’t have the time” but when you consider how much time is spent watching TV and fiddling around on technological toys and dig deeper, the excuse actually translates to “I don’t have the interest or skills and besides, nature scares me when it’s icky”.) Gardening and landscaping are like so many other life endeavors – you get out of it what you put into it and there are no shortcuts to working with natural systems like gardens, which are human-designed and created pseudoecosystems, but natural systems nonetheless. Nature sets the tone through microclimate, geology, and climate and ultimately calls the dance. Get over it.
Personally, as much as everyone complains about clay, I’d rather work with clayey soil than sand. It takes a lot longer to build up the organic content and create good tilth in a sandy soil that leaks water and nutrients like a sieve.
In addition to our acquired topsoil, we need to enrich with compost, right? If so, should it be in separate piles, or mixed in with the dirt? If mixed, what are the proportions, etc.? Where to acquire FREE compost if possible? We saw some sacks available on the Mar Vista Gardens tour, but didn’t note where they were from. Let us know.
• Same for MANURE: how much for our 12×20 space, and where to acquire FREE if possible?
• WOOD CHIPS, etc.: Should we have mulch piles on-site ready for spreading at end of the project?
We’re running out of room. Could that come later? Also, where to acquire FREE if possible. Our official Culver City source seems to have closed…
Again, this family is working under the premise and assumption that they need compost, manure, and wood chips for their allegedly “bad” hardpan soil. How did these folks arrive at their conclusions about what soil amendment materials they need for this landscaping project? What were their assumptions and why did they make them?
Eager about and enamored by the prospect of dabbling in their idea of Permaculture, they didn’t research drought tolerant plants or edibles to determine what those plants need to thrive. By their own admission, they don’t know much of anything about Permaculture or gardening, let alone the horticultural needs of plants. That kind of reading isn’t as sexy as jumping onto the Permaculture trendwagon but the blunt truth is that a lovely garden is not the end result when all the plants are struggling to survive because their needs are not being met. Attractive home gardens and landscapes, especially ones that increase property values in the long-term, are not accidents of short-lived attention, fashionable interest, and design on aesthetic whims. (Hint: Designing a daisy-shaped garden for the sake of designing a daisy-shaped garden without considering the needs of the plants, the mature sizes of the plants, or maintenance is setting yourself up for failure.)
Of the three materials that this family is requesting free source information for, I’d only recommend the wood chips for mulch and I wouldn’t skimp by going for free material unless my back was against the wall. Chipped material can be acquired gratis from a cooperative tree trimming company but since beggars cannot be choosers, the recipient 1) would not be able to specify quantity (you take whatever they give you), 2) cannot request specs on the tree and shrub species in the mix, or 3) expect to have a request for a minimal leaf litter to wood chip ratio honored. If you refuse to compromise on special requests and place conditions on the tree trimmings you are willing to receive, take a number and expect to wait until a tree trimming job that happens to meet your exacting specifications crops up. That wait could take months. If the need for mulch is time-sensitive, it’s best to just pay for it.
The vast majority of tree trimming jobs generate both leafy and woody material in equal proportions. Mix the finely chopped wet green stuff plus the moist woody stuff, leave it in a pile about a cubic yard in volume, and in a few short months you have…TA-DA!…compost! Pure wood chips that are coarsely chopped (i.e. pieces 2-4 inches in length) don’t break down as quickly as free tree trimmings and where mulch is concerned, you want that 3 to 4 inch protective layer on top of your soil to last at least a few years as opposed to only several months but no more than a year. Left to its own devices, nature generates its own mulch. It may be minimal or plentiful depending on the ecosystem and plant community, but it’s there.
By the way, I didn’t put the word “free” in all caps for emphasis on how cheap and stingy this family was. The text and its formatting is how it appeared in the e-mail verbatim. I kid you not.
We have sprinklers which we don’t use, but are still hooked up. We have not retrofitted to any of the low flow dribblers or whatever–don’t have the expertise (My husband is a carpenter, not a plumber). He doesn’t want to use auto sprinkling at all, but go to hose, and says he’s willing to hand-water. I think we need a FREE pro consult on this–If the workings are there, do we want to take advantage and make life easier?
I hope this family actually tested the sprinkler system to check to see whether it still worked. I didn’t offer up my services and don’t know what sucker, um, I mean person…yeah, if anyone, stepped up to the plate to offer professional advice to tailor the irrigation system. The type of retrofit would entirely depend on the type of plants chosen for the project and since the planned plant palette was going to be mixed, you can bet that the results would be as well.
Hand watering is often a good enough option but the system failure often lies in whoever handles the hose. For busy, scattered, distracted suburbanites, the committed intention to hand water the plants wears off in direct proportion to the garden project’s novelty. Remembering to deep water drought tolerant plants on a frequency of once every 2 to 4 weeks (actual frequency depends on time of year, solar exposure, soil type, and weather) can be another challenge if the irregular ritual of watering doesn’t become a habit. More often than not, people forget. The other challenge with hand watering is that the tops of the plants usually get sprayed, leaving the roots where the water is really needed to slowly dry out after the last of seasonal rains. Few well-intentioned hand waterers bother to check soil moisture below the mulch layer, if one is present.
• THIRSTY TREE:•
Any tree experts out there who can help advise us about our thirsty parkway magnolia which is sending sausage-sized roots up to the surface of the yard, and blasting the sidewalk out of its way in doing so? Since we stopped watering our hardpan, it’s gone wild looking for water. We’re trying to coordinate with L.A. City about sidewalk repair, and hoping to talk to the city arborist, but much redtape and perhaps many moons before we get info there. So if anyone has info here. (This challenge is separate from the 12×20 area delineated for the workday…)
Any info is much appreciated!
Thanx from the Cheapskate Family (surname changed to protect the guilty)
Harry & Virginia & boys
Want to raise some sidewalk, maybe destroy a nearby cement block wall or even a building foundation? Plant a Ficus or a Magnolia tree nearby.
The City of Los Angeles Public Works has a warped interpretation of job security. One department is charged with planting and maintaining trees that destroy infrastructure so that another department charged with infrastructure repairs and periodic rebuilding never runs out of tree related damage to address. Too bad the City is going broke and like other fiscally stretched governmental entities is postponing repairs and maintenance wherever and whenever it can.
The poor magnolia was ill-chosen for its planting location and as a result there is no solution that this family could implement that wouldn’t cost them something. But seeing that spending anything – time, strenuous effort, or money – is almost completely out of the question, there wouldn’t be any point in anyone offering these folks any advice since they wouldn’t be willing to follow it anyway.
If the family whined and complained long and loudly enough to the City’s arborist, a crew might eventually come out, sever and remove the “offending” roots, and then repour concrete slab to patch the sidewalk. The operative word is eventually. The family’s sons will likely have flown the nest by the time L. A. Public Works slogs through their backlog, which even conservative estimates peg at a decade long wait. If that’s a bit much, Public Works suggests that residents take matters into their own hands by paying for a licensed arborist’s services out of pocket on top of a tree permit issued by the city, neither of which, I note for the record, will ever be FREE.
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