Sunday, April 17, 2016

Digging Up Stuff

I've been moving rocks this past month. Digging them from under iris and rhody roots, unearthing them from under blue fescue gone amok. Making new piles and wondering what to do with them all.

Back when we bought this house, I decided to get rid of the lawn—I have a philosophical prejudice against lawns because they consume fertilizer, water and time and are boring. Shrubs and flowers are prettier, can be way lees work, and are easy to ignore for weeks at a time (mostly...).. So I had the sod removed and hauled away and planted rhododendrons and day lilies and hostas and ferns and two wisteria

(I've already told you how they tricked me—they need monthly pruning, starting right now).

Anyhow, the rocks. My house is on the edge of a "lenticular gravel bar" left by the Missoula Floods that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age. Big floods that carved the Columbia Gorge and reshaped the topography of much of eastern Washington and the northern Willamette Valley. Each time I planted one of the twenty-seven rhodies I began with, I dug up rocks. In fact, I couldn't use a shovel to dig with; it took a 1-1/2-inch thick, pointed iron bar, because I was digging in gravel, with a little soil holding it together.

Those rocks, I thought, would make lovely borders for the rhodies, keeping out weeds and saving me having to lay down bark mulch. And they did, until plant debris and ants and other natural processes built up a layer of soil and compost on top of them, making a lovely home for weeds. Now, twenty-odd years later, the rocks are mostly buried. So I'm moving them out, to give the plants' roots more room, because some of my rhodies have died for lack of water—it runs right off the compacted rocks—from overcrowding—I got carried away when I planted them because I forgot that shrubs get bigger—and from several hot summers in a row—a pine tree just outside my lot that shaded three rhodies was cut down and now all three are gone, victims of too much sun.

But about the rocks. It's hard to resist looking at them as I dig them up. I've found granite that had to have come from Montana, piggy-backing on ice floes or tumbling in the floodwaters. Pitted black basalt that probably began its journey in the Columbia Plateau, a shard or two of limestone from somewhere east of here, and even some really pretty, nearly transparent quartz pebbles. Sometimes I wish I knew more geology, so I could know what each rock is and where it probably came from, but mostly I just enjoy knowing they've traveled a long way to end up in my garden.

I've finished planting my vegetables. In addition to all the onion-relatives that have been growing all winter, and the snow peas that are now nearly a foot tall, I have five tomato plants (two cherry, three big ones), and two different kinds of squash. Some nasturtium seeds are in the ground, but I haven't seen any sprouts yet. I hope they do grow. The leaves and flowers are both delicious.

And speaking of delicious, no I haven't forgotten to include a recipe. But this month it's really an ingredient suggestion instead of a full-blown recipe. Pea tips and pea sprouts. I'd heard about them a few years ago, but had never tried them until this spring when my snow peas needed thinning. They're quite tasty in salads, and they are good stir-fried too. So if you have some pea plants you can spare, Google "pea tips" and you'll find a whole bunch of ways you can use them. They may also be available in your local farmers market.

Last but not least, I have a new (short) book out. Common Ground is about an heir to a marquessate, who'd rather dig up old ruins than participate in the ton's social rituals, a young woman whose guardians insist that the study of Roman mosaics is unsuitable for a lady, and a duck-chasing dog whose antics open all sorts of possibilities for two unconventional—and lonely—young people. (ISBN 978-1-60174-214-8, $2.99; now at Amazon and KOBO.

Now, I'm heading out to dig up more rocks.