Is This Gardening?

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In late August, as I was gardening, I heard what could be described as cat chatter from the nearby woods. It strangely had the rythm and cadence of speech, with an overall insistent effect, as if asking for or even demanding help and friendship.  Over the grassy-run-1next few days, I caught glimpses of the cat hunting and hiding under the cascading japanese maples. Soon I started feeding the feminine cat, becoming concerned if she wasn’t on time for her meals, which she usually was.

Over the weeks, she wove herself into my gardening, delighting me when I looked up and saw her running toward me full speed down a grassy expanse,
sleeping on a log,coco-1-2 and dancing down a newly filled hillside. dirt-on-hillside-1
Why didn’t I see the grass that way before, or notice that the logs looked like a beautiful bed, or comprehend the delightful quality of the bare earth on the hillside that slid just enough to make a running footprint exciting?

This small spirit provided grace and movement to the garden, causing my eyes to wander and follow her traceries in a soothing and rythmic way. This was Eden-
like, this was the ancient Kashmir, garden cradle of the world, gladly celebrating life without limit.

But there was a limit. As fall approached and nights got longer and cooler, I realized that this garden cat, named Koko early on, would face brutal Michigan weather and need protection. The only question was how to “snatch” her into the house, because, though she loved to be petted, she was wary of our doorway. So we did the almost unthinkable, we lured her into a cage to eat and quietly closed the latch. I’m not sure who was more distressed, she or I, but we made it into under-cocos-tree-1the house, then bedroom, where I quickly opened the door. One nano second later, she was under the bed. She was now safe, but how does a bed compare to a Japanese maple? She was too quiet, running exuberant legs, now tucked defensively under her.

It so happened I was reading an article the next day by Nyla Khan, “A Walk Down Memory Lane:  Kashmir and Its Environs” describing her feelings on leaving Kashmir for school in Delhi. Her feelings gave voice to what any being, human or animal, must feel after being taken away from a garden. Here is an excerpt:

“I always carried Kashmir inside me,
wherever I went:  the verdure, the aromas, the majestic panorama…….became an integral part of my being. While in New Delhi…..I experienced despair at the disintegration of familian spaces….I traveled to Kashmir for my summer vacations with an insatiate hunger for home and hearth, and an excitement that knew no bounds. After the sweltering heat of Delhi, the nippy air of Kashmir in the months of May and June, made aromatic by the swathes of dahlias and gladioli, swaying to the sounds of birds and crickets, susurrating through the fluttering leaves was a pleasure to my young mind and fluttering heart.”1024px-gustav_klimt_046

My heart was fluttering too as I read this. Seeing a garden as Kashmir-like and wanting to make it more so, and missing something much much earlier, much more primal, something encoded in the far reaches of our DNA, of perfect unity with nature and all that would entail. But in winter Kashimir fades, gardens fade, till they become Gustav Klimt-like atmospheric auras we and they wear like clothing, till they merge again with the verdant auras of spring.

Selecting Basil

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Coco cat with flowering basil, October 2

I have grown many varieties of basil over the years, from the tall Genovese to lemon and purple basils. However I began to notice that the larger basils deteriorated at the slightest hint of cool weather and shorter days in September. If I still needed to make and freeze pesto, I had to search for enough good leaves. I always grew Greek bush basil too, but considered them a novelty, until I read a chef’s five star review of the bush basils over all others, because of their more intense spicy flavor. As well as the flavor, I had noticed that the bush basils seemed more rugged, easier to grow, and lasted later in the fall. The next year, I decided to grow only the bush basils and was able to put in a dozen because of their small size.

That year, I noticed some seedling variations that were quite amazing. One was much bigger than the others, more vigorous, and much later to go to seed. After watching it last and last into October before finally biting the dust, I realized it would be worth propagating (oops, too late!). The next year, 2015, I again planted a dozen or so bush basils from the same seed packet (I save them in the freezer). They were called “Basil, Greek Yevani” organic seed from Botanical Interests, hoping more such variations would turn up. Luckily, there were again a couple of great ones. This time, I rooted 5 cuttings in water in September, to winter over in the house.

But keeping the warmth loving basils alive all winter in our cool Michigan house seemed doubtful. I figured my only chance was to use my seed starting mat which maintains about an 86 degree temperature. I also put them near a south facing window, as if south meant anything in the dead of winter. But I did everything I could think of. I also used some additional light from a bulb in a desk lamp called Sun Blaster 26 watt 6400 K  I found on Amazon. Toward spring, I lost 2, but 3 survived. I planted them out in late May and they took off in a hurry forming huge, not so diminutive, bush basil plants. I planted tomatoes on their south side, which soon grew to 6 feet, shading them from August onward. That didn’t seem to faze them. We  love the pesto they make. My husband is not normally a pesto fan, but raved about this. I did use pine nuts (Trader Joe’s), and I like the recipe called “I Am Graceful Hemp Seed Pesto” from my tried and true “I Am Grateful” book by Terces Engelhart with Orchid from Cafe Gratitude.

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Selected basils on October 2

 

I am now back to taking cuttings from these and rooting them in water for next summer. I’ll use the same system again, but may add my new and improved foliar feed with sea-90, BioAg’s Ful-Power (fulvic acid), General Organic’s BioWeed and BioMarine. Just to make sure the science (we know about) is there, I’ll also now use BioAg’s VAM to inoculate the roots with mycorrhizae. I’m hoping all five make it, (but do I really need 5?).

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‘Wonderful’ selected basil on left with unselected basil ‘Slim Pickins’ on right