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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Frugal Garden Art

(By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar)
My mother was committed gardener, and after her children left home she gradually converted most of our small front yard (the only place with sun) into a fabulous cactus garden. (You can see photos of the garden at its prime in Desert Gardens, text by Gary Lyons, and photographs by Melva Levick [NY: Rizzoli International Publications, 2000]])

Louisiana, of course, is very different from California in all sorts of ways. It is not, for example a good place to go surfing or grow cactuses. I discovered the latter when, at the age of eight or nine, our son developed a keen interest in cactuses and we began buying one every month or so—the kinds in teeny-weeny pots that cost about a dollar or two. When a few outgrew their pots I tried planting them in a raised bed--specially prepared and exceptionally well-drained--but after a few months they began to rot. Too much humidity, too much moisture.
Eventually I built a long, narrow planter to put on the front porch. I filled it with a mixture of compost, sand, perllite, and vermiculite. This became our own little memorial cactus garden, and it has flourished (slowly) for the past decade and more. Since the planter is sheltered I don’t have to worry about too much rain and they get enough sun. I eventually built another planter and the two extend almost the entire length of the south side of our L-shaped front porch.

These cactus gardens have also proven the perfect place for all those beautiful little objects that you can’t throw away, but know won’t be taken at Goodwill: marbles, little plastic fish the kids played with in the bathtub toy cars, seashells, rock collection, dolls, Mardi Gras doubloons, etc. If it’s small and interesting (or has sentimental value), and I can’t part with it, out it goes into the cactus garden. It’s become a sort of magical space, the sort of place that, when I was young, I could have invented stories about all day. Some of the objects are a bit scary—the diminutive blond-haired doll stuck to the side of a cactus, the hologram of a human brain, now thankfully faded--but most seem just fragments of some other, perhaps better, world. I like to think that some child will eventually stumble on the fragments of this world and try to put them together again, as I would have done when I was under ten. And I’d gladly let her take a memento.

So if you have any little things—anything, really, from marbles to scissors to old doorknobs--just make a little temporary alternative universe.

At some point I’ll write about the lattice-work fence to which I wire the larger objects (often our children’s old art projects) that won’t fit in the memorial cactus garden.

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