I practiced 20 different introductions as I walked toward the Flower Garden of Mystery. This is a large plot of sunflowers and nasturtiums on the corner of Hilyard and E. 25th.
“Hi, my name is Mary Ann and I love your garden and I wondered if I could interview you for my blog, which has very few readers….”
“Hi, I’m Mary Ann, your neighbor, and I write about stuff, and I like your stuff, wanna chat?”
I walked up to the door and knocked twice to no answer. I felt hopeful as I looked at gnomes, a small plastic draft horse, and other fun odds and ends in the flower bed off the porch. As I walked away on the sidewalk, a woman opened the door and called to me. She said she is often hesitant to answer her door, but she saw me and decided to open it. It wasn’t her garden. She said it was her landlady’s plot. “Bonnie just turned 80. She is sort of a legend around here, I think she’d love to talk to you.” I was directed to walk two houses over, to Bonnie’s house.
Turns out, this booming flower garden is entirely volunteer. Nothing was planted. By now, it blooms by habit. It’s 50 years old. “I love the feel of dirt and the fairly amazing concept that a little piece of nothing turns into something magnificent,” said Bonnie Brunken, the one behind the garden. She moved into the neighborhood in 1949. At that time, the land was swampy and cheap; flooding was a regular thing.
Zinnias are her favorite flower. Next, she likes nasturtiums and sunflowers because “they want to live!” My faves too.
Several years ago, I was inspired to have the audacity to plant a huge zinna patch by yet another 80+ year-old neighbor!
Bonnie said she learned to grow things through mentors. “I was mentored by Wilma Crowe, who is in her 90s now.” Wilma and her mother, Mrs. Zahn, taught her about “moon planting and all kinds of things.”
The big patch of flowers cycles like this: tons of mulched leaves from her Carolina Poplar trees are piled high on the bed in the winter. They are tilled into the soil in the spring. Next, she adds straw as the top layer. With some warmth and water, the soil pops to hundreds of flowers. After they are done, it all begins again.
What I like the most about the flower patch is its sole purpose is to be enjoyed. The flowers aren’t sold or eaten. They’re just there. The profit is in the eyes of those who notice.
Back to moon planting. Mrs. Zahn came by one day and checked in with Bonnie who had planted carrots about two weeks before. Mrs. Zahn gave her more carrot seeds and said, “plant these about 6″ out from yours, in the next row.” Bonnie said, sure, but why? “Because today is the right moon day to plant carrots.” In no time, the moon planted carrots grew stronger, faster, larger and didn’t have as much problems with bugs. Bonnie said, “I was a convert after that.”
Her mentors were organic farmers. She also read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson in the early 1960s. Carson stands out as one who brought forth awareness about the harm caused by pesticides. She is credited with starting the environmental movement. At 56 and dying of breast cancer, she testified in front of the senate, “our heedless and destructive acts enter the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”
Upon this read, Bonnie said, “o.k, I’m not going to add to the problem.”
Besides seeing the results of moon planting, she saw a study done about 25 years ago by the University of Iowa. The final analysis ended up being about 500 pages with the conclusion: we understand a little bit about it; we don’t understand most of it; we just know that it works.
Sometime before this study, Pliny, the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist stated that the moon “replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all the bodies; while when she recedes, she empties them.”
Moon planting is also referred to as agricultural astrology as it relates to moon phases and astrological signs.
Bonnie has two great dogs: Dandelion, the Parson Russel terrier, and Sage, the very soft beagle. Before I left, she wanted to show me the third pet, who lives in the back yard.
Perched in a patch of dragon lilies, snap dragons, daises, and other grasses and flowers, was a huge metal dragon! Bonnie named it, “Joyful.”
For more about organic and biodynamic farming, check out my article featuring draft horses:
A thriving coexistence: cultivating Zoöpolis.
Zoöpolis is a new word for me. Maybe you already know it? It has a z and an umlaut, so I already liked it, before I knew what it meant. Jennifer Wolch, a geographer coined this term.
Definition: The place where the polis meets the zoo, an overlap of human and animal geographies. A zoöpolis happens when we create landscapes in which humans and animals coexist, or even thrive alongside each other. I saw this word in Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
I like to make signs. So it came to be: zoöpolis holds its place in my homemade trellis. It was there for one day when I saw a pair of crows carefully choosing old dry plant skeletons for their nest build. They looked like a couple at home depot choosing fence boards. Did they read my sign? I mean, they ARE smart. I’ve seen crows in my yard before, picking at things, strolling about. But, with the sign blessing their presence, everything looked different, more unified, more alive and thriving.
Resources are meant to be shared. I suggest making a yard that provides offerings, both for human and animal. For me, this means plants for pleasure, and harvest. Many options provide both, for example, patches of sunflowers are visually sensational, while serving as pollinators. Bees buzz over them in the warm sun, heavy with thick pollen panniers. After a few weeks, the dried sunflowers become feeding stations to chickadee, golden finch, and squirrels.
You must throw in some art somewhere. I have twig structures. They are great to hang bird feeders from. People also like points of interest that move. I have a palomino. It is not a real horse, but a small replica. It is in a constant grazing pose. Every few days, when I’m out working in the yard, I’ll move it around. People are wild for this, often commenting that they enjoy looking for it. This little horse has stolen the show, and it’s the least amount of work for me to maintain.
Nest material can be fluffed with little effort. Crows mate for life and both the male and female collect nest materials and put it together. They look for pieces of straw, twigs, stripped bark, and feathers. If you want to offer some additional materials, put out yarn, brushed out animal fur, or bits of twine. Don’t put out dryer lint. It’s soft but can be an irritant to young birds.
Zoöpolis: It’s got something for everyone.