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School of Hard Rocks
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Mary and I have sent out and placed online a new issue of our newsletter The Orphan Scrivener. As you can see below, I write about my (so-called) gardening. To read Mary's essay about strange secret codes and messages in history, and the ever popular blatant self promotion, go to:

Orphan Scrivener 86

School of Hard Rocks

Returning from the post office yesterday morning I noticed the green shoots of day lilies jutting up through the brown leaves driven against the wall of the house by winter's winds. Aside from mowing around the ferns, allowing them to continue their steady advance from the woods, we don't do any gardening here, surrounded as we are by trees and perpetual shadow, with soil that's half rocks and half tree roots. The day lilies take care of themselves.

So although many people's fancies turn to gardening this time of year, ours do not. I've been to the school of hard rocks. I've learned through trial and tribulation and error galore that plants need sun on their leaves and water and soil under their roots. Two hours of filtered sunlight might look sufficient to a bipedal mammal but a tomato plant knows better. And so far as I'm aware they don't manufacture fertilizer that contains sunlight.

I grew up surrounded by green thumbs. My grandparents both came from farms and after moving to town they turned their big double lot into a farm in miniature with more vegetables than grass. My grandfather grew rutabagas so huge he needed a yard tractor to pull them out -- or so he told us kids. My father followed in the family tradition. He performed feats like starting an asparagus bed from scratch.

And me...I grew kale once. By the time I chose to harvest it, the leaves were so tough you could've made a poncho out of them and that was after they'd boiled in a pot for four hours.

I've spent my life in apartments and houses with yards inimical to plants. In one place I did my best to carve out a flowerbed in the tiny backyard which had its sustenance perpetually sucked out by my neighbor's massive oak tree. The soil was nothing but a spongy mesh of fine roots. No matter how frequently I dug, the insidious roots would slither back to strangle anything I planted.

In another place I gamely planted flowers and vegetables in the gravel at the end of an electrical contractor's parking lot. I reckoned enough sunlight would get in across the open parking lot of the car dealership across the alley. The portulaca liked it. One year. But plants need dirt, not gravel.

When I moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey I was thrilled to see dirt behind the house whose top half I was renting. True, the dirt was on the almost vertical slope at the top of the retaining wall above the garage, where a precipitous hill ran up to the backyards of the mansions on the street overlooking Manhattan. Still, it was dirt. Life-giving dirt. In Brooklyn, even the park across from the apartment had been paved.

I conceived an audacious engineering scheme. I would terrace the hill. It would be the Hanging Gardens of Weehawken. In the end, after countless blisters and buckets of soil I ended up with five punky radishes and two wretched tomato plants. Every morning I could see my elevated garden through the kitchen window -- those pathetic, fruitless tomatoes a daily, desiccated reproach to my youthful hubris.

So now I am done with trying to force vegetables and flowers to grow under inhospitable conditions. I am happy to watch the ferns creep ever nearer to the house and to see the moss supplant the grass. I am happy to let Nature have her own way and to take the day lilies she offers me.

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