I wanted to start this column by telling you about an episode where a young lady, stopped by a red light as I was crossing the street in front of her, shouted out “Hey, handsome,” but I figured nobody would believe it so I’ll write about a gardening problem instead.
Except for the five years I spent in the army, I’ve been gardening since I was about 9 years old. I’m sure I’ve written about the garden we had when the family first moved into an old house that had already taken two years to make habitable. As available labor, I was shown a freshly dumped load of “dairy waste” and told to spread it around a plot where a dried up lawn had, at one time, existed.
Before I moved into my current mobile home, I grew ferns and rhubarb between the shrubbery in front of my ground-floor apartment. I was overjoyed when the previous owner of my present home left a small greenhouse behind. Except for a 3-foot wide grass walkway curving itself between flower beds, everything else is planted in flowers and vegetables.
I love it and I’m told my garden shows it. Something is always in bloom and this week the gladiolas take center stage. I’ve loved it so much it’s getting overgrown and changing from a “what should I plant” process into a “what do I have to dig out” situation. So, as I take out old plants, I’m also going to focus on taking out all the rocks within about 10 inches below the surface and replacing them with an equal amount of peat moss, thoroughly mixed with the existing, remaining soil.
My focus is to displace every rock larger than the fingernail on my little finger with soft, water retaining soil. Anyone in Centralia who has ever tried to push a spade into the ground where the ground is flat knows that you’ll be hindered by rocks and that the rocks increase in size in direct proportion to the depth of the hole.
When I lived on F Street, I once purchased a gadget that screwed onto the end of a 2-inch diameter pipe. It was screened and all a person had to do — the directions said — was pound it into the ground until you reached the level of the water table and start pumping that water — free of charge — onto your garden. I know from later experience that the water table under Centralia can be as little as 7 or 8 feet below the ground level during a heavy rain. But no matter where I tried to pound that pipe into the ground, I seemed to hit solid rock after about 5 or 6 feet down. The project was abandoned.
My theory for garden restoration is this: while rocks themselves cannot hold water, the very fact that they’re different shapes and sizes means that there’s always space that allows water to pass by them, thereby denying the plants a large portion of the water we’re trying to get to their roots. Therefore, “Rock bad. Soil good.” I don’t know how long my rock assault (that’s a small intentional pun) will take, perhaps two or more growing seasons.
I’ve already chosen some plants which need to go. Most of my lupines, for example, are magnets to leaf mold and they’re already too large, anyway. I initially planted them in profusion, based mainly on one of my favorite sketches from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” (Oh, how I’d love to see every one of those shows again!)
You can be sure I’ll keep you informed of any progress along the way.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.