Friday, December 17, 2010

drops in the bucket, part 4

With rain predicted for the next four days, I'm taking a break from harvesting laundry water, a major preoccupation since early October, when I wrote drops in the bucket, part 3.

During these spring-like weeks, I've been seriously questioning my values with regard to the uses of time and water, and finding that these two valuable commodities have much in common. Both water and time exist in finite quantities, yet humans tend to treat them as if they were infinite.

My first response to a new water source was that I could add a whole new range of plants to the garden, and, coincidentally, early October was the time when our 99¢ Only store received a huge shipment of what they labelled as 'mini fern' -- nephrolepis exaltata. As soon as I looked up the Latin name, I knew that 'mini' referred mainly to size of pot (2"), though I suspect that the plants I bought were a 'mini ruffle' cultivar of the Boston fern or Victorian parlor fern grown extensively as a houseplant in the east and midwest.*

Now I have a dozen ruffly Boston ferns thriving in the front garden, thanks to generous applications of laundry water. These are planted in groups of three, with each group centered on an empty 3-4" plastic pot and surrounded by a deep mulch. I water the ferns by filling and refilling the empty pots and thus avoid wetting the mulch while encouraging the ferns to make deep roots.

I used to claim that I had six varieties of fern in the bed where these new ferns are prospering: three asparagus ferns (sprenger, meyer, and the vining emerald) and three varieties Kay had given to me (leather, sword, and rabbit foot). Of these, only the meyer and leather ferns remain, and I am quick to admit that the meyer is not a fern. My saga of removing unwanted asparagus ferns is related in asparagus ferns, parts 1, 2, & 3. Kay's ferns wasted away from neglect, but the leather fern has come back and makes a fitting memorial to her, along with a row of her California native irises.

Besides indulging in new plants, I've dedicated laundry water to maintaining and restoring plants that have suffered from my low-water regimen -- most notably violets, dichondra, sweet alyssum, and jade plants in the parking strip, as well as the convolvulus mauritanicus I've been treating as a bulb cover. Of course the food crops (strawberries, boysenberries, veggies) have always received high priority, while the herbs, cacti, and succulents mostly get by on little or no water.

Paradoxically, I am both saving and spending more water today than I was last spring. It's taking more control that makes this possible -- catching water as it goes by (whether from rainclouds or city pipes) and diverting it from the sewer/storm-drain system that would dump it into the ocean.

There's more to come about the process and the results.

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*One of my favorite professors in graduate school had a huge Boston fern hanging in his office, and I remember watching it shed on his desk while we discussed the history of the English novel -- from Richardson and Fielding through Henry James -- and thinking that in California these plants could grow in the ground.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License