Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One day we are all full of travel plans, mapping our way around Mexico to see whales, deserts, the Copper Canyon, the monarch migration, ancient pyramids, and endless tropical beaches on both sides of the country.
Two months later we were homeless and jobless, spending our travel money on something to live in and something to move it around with, and spending the downpayment for our future home on doctor bills.
C’est la vie.
The hardest thing about moving into a 31’ Airstream travel trailer is not the small quarters... quite the contrary. Having sold and given away virtually everything we owned in order to travel, the Airstream is a mansion compared to the VW Westfalia vanagon I was well prepared to live in for a year.
No, the hardest thing is for a dedicated gardener to be told that she is not allowed to put plants in the ground. We had taken a park host position in a beautiful little day-use park in the Apalachicola National Forest, and while there was nothing pristine or undisturbed about the park in which we lived, I am still acutely aware of the importance of not introducing cultivated plants into such an area.

We were given permission to plant what we wanted so long as we kept everything containerized, and I was faithful about making sure than no seed or cutting ‘escaped’.
Because gardening is my business, as well as my passion, there was an endless parade of different plants gracing the front of our teeny tiny home. Most moved on to new homes in my clients’ gardens, but the longer we were in one place, the more I was inclined to purchase a ‘bonus plant’ for myself now and then. The 4” or gallon size I purchased would be immediately potted up to a slightly larger container, and then, if necessary, potted up again the following Spring. This agave geminiflora on the left (which looks like a large pincushion) was the size of a large grapefruit when I bought it. The edible ginger had to be cut out of its one gallon container, and a year later had to be cut out of the seven gallon container I had transplanted it to.

One reason our plants are so happy has to do with the big round thing on the right hand side... a composter that sits on rollers and spins in place to aerate the coffee grounds, vegetable peels, fruit scraps, paper towels, lint, egg shells, shredded paper, and various other items I feed it daily. (Oh yeah, it did come with us.) It also contains a fair amount of red wigglers that migrated over from the worm bin during Tropical Storm Ida, which hit last summer while we were vacationing in what would become our new home. (Some of them came with us, too.)

When I began working with the nonprofit Damayan Garden Project I got more interested in growing food as well as ornamental plants. Because the square foot garden technique promised that you could grow a lot of food in a small space, we build our garden right on top of the concrete pad and filled it with the recommended soil mixture, including our homegrown compost.

We grew one ‘stacked’ garden, with strawberries in the top planter so they could trail over the sides, carrots on the next level where they would have plenty of room to send down the tap roots, shallots on the corners, and various greens planted around the edges.

The second garden proved that yes, we could grow veggies in six inches of soil on top of concrete.

We used large nursery containers, too. After all, more is better, right? especially when my DH vowed to cook everything we grew.

This lemon sorrel was planted at the suggestion of a friend who did a lot of Indian cooking. It added a wonderful tangy flavor to stir fries, and lasted through the summer and well in to the following winter.

The oak leaf lettuce went in to salads from early spring into mid-summer when it finally bolted and turned bitter.

The sweet peas were delicious, but not one single sweet pea made it into the cooking pot. They were eaten right off the vine, every day.

We planted the cabbage too late, and never got a good crop... just one small head from six plants. However, it is one of my favorite plants! I love using cabbages for their ornamental look, and have nothing against sneaking them into my clients’ flower beds to fill space during the winter.

Needless to say, when we decided we were moving to SC I had a lot of plants to find good homes for. Thanks (a lot!) to Debra Lee Baldwin, a fair amount of them were succulents that I have fallen in love with since reading her books.

My dear clients will never realize how many ‘freebies’ were placed into their gardens from my own beloved collection. Other plants were placed into the hands of good friends just before we left. I had promised Brooks not to take any more plants with me than would fit into our small shower. (I stowed just a few into different containers... shh! He’ll never know!)

I did manage to keep some of the nice planters I had collected, and they are waiting impatiently (or is that me?) for new, zonal-appropriate plants to fill them.
We will soon be living in a state park that comes with this rule: “Don’t look like you live there.” Does that mean no plants for me? Nah.
When the love of plants, nature, and design defines you, THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY!


Bill Tucker said...


I enjoy your blog and look forward to your postings. Oh, how I wish I had a green thumb.

thistleandthorn said...

Bill, you are in the perfect place to develop one!

Pam said...

Hey, I stopped by shortly after you posted this - and had to run so couldn't comment. Now I'm back - was hoping for an update on how it is going in guys doing okay?

I think you guys do the Airstream thing better than me - I think being at a real camp ground with the right kind of hook-ups must really help. Alot of my 'issues' come from rigging things the best I can - so there's rarely anything done exactly right. Space-wise I've adapted well - isn't it funny, how sometimes it actually feels spacious? Cozy, yes, but not cramped. That has really surprised me.

thistleandthorn said...

Thanks for the reminder that I need to get in gear and start posting again, Pam!
After we parked it in SC I did not get any gardening calls for soooooo long... who knew Spring would be a month late this year??
So I was a little down in the dumps... the weather was getting warmer and I had nothing to plant, nothing to weed, no design work to do.
Thankfully, Spring has arrived, and I am getting satiated on all the above!

Funny, you comments on the campground. We happen to have picked the one place where the host does not have a paved site, no septic hookup, and our holding tanks leak so... I bet you can guess the rest. LOL, right now my little porta toilet is in the shower stall so at least I can do my serious business in private! So I have to shower in the campground shower (with spiders, this week) and everyday we have to haul to portable holding tank to the dump station. Ahhh, but it is paradise. I am not complaining.

The Airstream is indeed roomy, warm, and cozy. Today it has rained steadily since about 2:00, and the rest of the campers are quite miserable. I am working on a small landscape design, warm, dry, happy, and have new internet service that actually resembles what the rest of the world has.

And mangos for dessert. Life IS good!