Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The art of minimalist gardening

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — How artistic is your garden?
I’ve been pondering my own environs after learning about the upcoming Art in the Garden Tour in Picacho Hills (it’s Sept. 16 … get the details in today’s Artist of the Week feature on page 4E).
If my garden’s artistic merit were judged solely on its thriving blooms and greenery, I’d be in big trouble this year.
Most everything I planted seemed inclined to croak within weeks or even days. Almost all the sculptural stalwarts … big agaves … succumbed to the big freezes of the last two years. I’m left with one rather forlorn looking big guy and a bunch of unruly agave puppies who keep popping up in surprising places.
But my garden has great bones, thanks to a visit from my son, who’s turned out to be a feng shui-savvy garden maestro like his grandmother.
Armed only with a desert full of interesting rocks, pruning shears and a desire for a workout, he managed to transform my boring, somewhat mangy, landscape into a zen wonderland of curving paths and intriguing textures. Two trios of trees, junipers out front, pines out back, were wrangled to display elegant silhouettes.
During this long, hot, dry summer, when assorted painful calamities and long-awaited family visits left me uninclined to invest any resources in gardening, I’ve been pleased to discover how lovely a minimalist landscape (and philosophy) can be.
Without flower-filled planters, mounds of colorful lantana and verbena, and fragrant lavender bushes to tend, I’m free to kick back and admire the survivors.
John, Paul and George started life as scrawny, foot-high Charlie Brown Christmas trees grown by local kids. Planted with the assistance of my favorite then-toddler Alex the Great, the pines now tower high over the head of my now six-foot grandson. They are a refuge for occasional flocks of birds and a kind of lounge for teensy hummers preparing for feeder strafing missions.
Most dry summers, when the molting starts and the pine needles begin to fall, I’m out there with brooms and rakes and giant green garbage bags.
This summer, I decided I’d been clever, artistic and foresighted a decade ago, to choose small rocks and large slabs in warm, adobe-colored hues.
The fallen needles blend nicely into the scene, adding texture to the big rock slab paths and even improving the barren dusty gray bedding areas where nothing much seems inclined to grow this year. The agave pups look greener and healthier, somehow, frolicking in random patterns on the springy pine needle ground cover.
There are subtle beauties to be savored in an uncultivated garden with good bones.
Finally, when a few little monsoons break through, there is a burst of enthusiastic bounty: a bumper crop of weeds. This year, I try to strike an artful balance, letting them grow long enough to make sure they aren’t volunteers of coveted crops, long enough to get a grip and pull the unwanted up by the roots, but not long enough to go to seed.
In the process, I appreciate some weeds that could be considered wild flowers, with pretty little blooms in sun-gold or neon purple.
Biology is the ultimate art form, my soul mate Dr. Roger and I concluded long ago.
And the art of gardening is filled with the surprises of biology, the alacrity and animation of life, even the contemplation of points where physics and metaphysics meet and overlap. If movement is life and vibration, does a garden rock have life, on the atomic level, and in real-time, as it is moved by rain, windstorms, the leap of a small lizard?
There’s a lot to ponder, when you aren’t wasting time perfecting, manicuring, trying to wrestle mother nature into submission in high desert county.
A garden is art, however you find it.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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