Thursday, March 16, 2006

The End of the Line

There is a fine line between lush and a big ol’ mess. I like to call one of my gardening habits sheet composting. Half the time that I am trimming or cleaning any plant I will cut the pieces into smaller parts and just leave them on the ground as a mulch or a hidden pile of rubbish. This works pretty well if you don’t have an obsession for cleanliness and have a fairly large garden. It cuts the rubbish hauling by half and most assuredly improves the soil. For the most part it will all disappear into the soil within a year.

My advantage in getting away with this is my warm tropical climate where decomposition happens 24/7, 365 and ¼ days a year. Stuff rots just as fast as it can grow. My disadvantage is that my annual rainfall on the leeward side of the island is only about 12 inches and if things don’t get wet they do not disappear. They may actually desiccate and petrify. You can find some interesting things in really dry places. This guy hung himself in a Kiawe forest in the middle of town and they didn’t find him for about two years. Think Peruvian mummies.

There is also a fine line between patience and laziness and the two can commingle to the point where you aren’t sure whether you have a virtue or a flaw.

About three years ago the house next door sold for $850,000 after being on the market for only three days. It was a rental unit for the first year and before the owners moved in they had a cottage built on the property. That construction was quick and painless. Once the owners arrived it was time to build a pool. When I saw who their pool contractor was I knew they were in for a long and drawn out process.

The work started and part of the irrigation system was cut which for some incompetent reason caused the entire system and thus the entire landscape to be shut down. Things dry up very quickly in a desert.

A good portion of the screening between me and this new cottage new pool was a hedge of Heliconia bihai, a beautiful upright red and green flowered tough and reliable tropical plant. This hedge is also under a massive Monkey Pod tree which gets a semi-annual limbing up that tends to mangle the Heliconia in the trimming process.

The neighbor’s irrigation system gets shut off. The Monkey Pod gets trimmed and the Heliconia get smushed. As usual after the tree trimming I went in a cleaned up the mess.

During the surveying for the sale of the house next door it was discovered that our upper fence and hedge had bowed out in a slight curve and was as much as four feet over the property line. The Heliconia hedge started the slow curve back in at the point farthest over the line. The construction for the pool next door and the loss of the water had removed most of landscaping barrier that had been on their side and all that was left between us and the dragging dusty construction zone in the center section of the property line was a mushed row of Heliconia.

This is where patience comes in. You expect that the pool will get finished, the landscaping redone and that they just might want to use all of their own property. I had cleaned the smashed heliconia knowing they always come back just fine from the rhizomes from which they grow. Beyond that I didn’t want to put out much effort until the new neighbors were done with their project. Lord save me these people are slower than my own landlords when it comes to getting anything done.

This is where laziness comes in. The Heliconia weren’t coming back and were beginning to slowly dry up. At first I thought they just weren’t getting their former gravity fed borrowed water from the irrigation system next door. Winter started and I expected the usual rains to give the Heliconia an assist to keep them going until the project was done. It hasn’t rained much in Kihei this winter. The Heliconia continued their decline. The whole row was pretty much over the property line. I didn’t feel like checking my own drip line.

It is almost spring now and the Heliconia are pretty much dried up carcasses. My patience for looking through the void at their now filled and busy pool surrounded by dust and dirt and rocks has come to an end.

This is where lushness comes in. If I get adequate water to the area anything I plant will grow very quickly. I finally turned on my drip line to inspect it and discovered two major leaks. No water at all was being delivered at the end of the line to the Heliconia hedge. Not bad though for a fifteen year old drip line.

This is where a big ol’ mess comes in. The dried remnants and my years of sheet composting of this once lush hedge, none of which had seen much water to aid in the decomposition process in the last year and a half had to be dealt with before I could find the drip line and even decide what to do to refill this void.

This Heliconia hedge ends at the uppermost highest elevation of my portion of the property and from this vantage point I can gaze down over my house and much of my garden. With the great void that looks into the endless construction zone to my right, a sweeping view to the left that takes in my garden and thousands of potted plants that make up my nursery and a giant pile of dried brown rubbish right down the center I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. What is this place I have created? I had put fifteen years of my life into a garden whose soil it grew in I did not own and here I was now contemplating how to fix a longstanding problem that neither actual owner of the adjoining properties seemed to notice or care about.

Is this where foolishness comes in? I got to work cleaning the dried remnants of the hedge and pulling the drip line from under the piles of rubbish. To my surprise there seemed to be one viable portion of the rhizome within each clump of the Heliconia that had once constituted the hedge. My thoughts of planting a row of various stock plants for propagation vanished. The job was already done. A water hogging tropical had clung to life in a sloped rocky desert soil that had been sheet composted for a bit more than a decade.

There are some rewards to laziness. With my sheet composting I avoided hauling massive amounts of rubbish to the dump and my soil gained enough vitality to sustain life for an extended period of drought.

There are some draw backs to patience. I could have checked the drip line nine months ago at the first signs of thirst and avoided the hole in the hedge all together.

The water is back on to the Heliconia hedge. Let the Lushness begin.

1 comment:

whistlestop caboose said...

Not for publication unless you want to use all or part of it - feel free to edit!

I can't work out another way to write and say thanks for your tip about complaining about spamming - hadn't realized I could and should do that. I get about one a week on my blog, not a massive amount but irritating.

It's fun to sit here in Switzerland and read about your garden in Hawaii. Check out the state of my garden this week (just a little different!):

Thanks, Ellen