Sharing a garden of thoughts
The earliest job descriptions seem so simple. Before the ages of royalty, there were hunters, gatherers, mothers and fathers, and gardening was a way of life.In his most recent book, “The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West,” David Wann professes his belief in the vitality of gardening in our modern melee of technology, taxes and vanity.Wann’s booksigning at the Vail Farmers’ Market today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. is an opportunity for avid and aspiring gardeners to meet the man and fertilize the botanical mind.Wann has written eight books, he co-authored international bestseller “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic” and he has been gardening since he was 35 years old. However, these facts are trivial and beside the point, in his opinion. He will undoubtedly promote gardening rather than himself.”That’s what’s important to me. It’s more than the appearance of it,” said Wann.So, I took the opportunity to get some of the obvious questions out of the way:
So you’ve written seven other books, and your most widely-read was “Affluenza.” What was the subject of “Affluenza?””‘Affluenza’ is about the disease of over-consumption in America. We’re not necessarily pointing the finger at people who happen to be wealthy. It’s not about just people. It’s built into the culture that we need to be extracting resources and using them up as quickly as possible because, in our estimation, we can’t fill ourselves up with what we really need. So, we keep turning to this ‘chase for the stuff’ kind of thing; trying to cover for non-material needs. The book is kept in a light-hearted fashion.”Let’s talk about gardening.”It’s the number one thing that I do – probably with the exclusion of making money and so forth. I’ve gardened in a variety of different places in Colorado – 25 years now – and I’ve gardened at 6,800 feet – a little bit lower than Vail. But I gardened for 15 years at close to 7,000. It’s still quite a viable thing to be gardening in Vail. Particularly under glass. If you have cold frames or something like that, but certainly a lot of the rock garden plants and a lot of the perennials and a lot of very hardy, native-type shrubs and trees can do quite well in Vail. I’m always very pleased to come up there and see all the color that’s going on in Vail. “I’m currently a head gardener – for six years – at a community garden of 27 households in a neighborhood in Golden. It’s a unique neighborhood in that we actually designed it ourselves before we moved in. each resident had a stake in participating in not only the design of it, but we also participate in its home-owner association and beyond that. It’s like, ‘Can we figure out how to spend our money wisely in the neighborhood?’ And actually, related to ‘The Zen of Gardening,’ we actually also designed our landscape. We saved the project budget $6,000 by learning about which trees and shrubs would be particularly good for Golden. We’ve had really pretty good luck. It’s about a 90 percent survival rate in the past six years, including our two hellish drought years.”
Can you give us a taste of what you like to grow?”I’m definitely heading off in the direction of vegetables. That’s my main interest for the last 10 years. I’ve started getting into some farmers’ market types of things, selling particularly basil and garlic – they’re my favorites down here. I wouldn’t be surprised if garlic would grow in Vail. It’s really pretty hardy, and there’s a hard-neck variety that’s different from the white, wimpy California variety. They grow it in Siberia, so it’s of interest in Vail. Certainly I like to grow the gourmet salads, which are definitely a good bet for Vail. Things like arugula, lemon sorrel – a weed that happens to taste really good – and mustard, it’s very distinctive and can definitely perk up your taste buds. I like to mix these various things together and throw in some arugula and oregano, some basil and some scallions and try and hit all the tones your taste buds can receive. I have a 30-foot long cold frame that’s made out of three recycled porch sliding doors – really heavy. They survived a golf-ball-sized hail event about a month ago, and I can grow things year-round. I can be growing something 365 days a year. And typically it is salad that I’m growing in the winter time. Even in Vail, at that elevation, a nice tight cold frame next to a house facing south can get salad all winter long for Vail residents. There are some things that are just so hardy. I even leave spinach out. It’s gotten down to five below and 10 below, not even in a cold frame. And, then in the Spring, it pops up. It’s ready to go again. If you try to grow the right thing in an area, even with Colorado sun, there’s a lot of things that will grow.”In gardening, why does the concept of Zen become apparent?”You’re not going to be the master of a garden at all times. You’re going to lose some battles, and it becomes more like, ‘So I like doing this.’ It’s more about how you spend your time, and it’s not so much about perfection. I have a new slogan these days that fits a lot of different situations: ‘Perfection is neither necessary, nor possible.’ We beat ourselves up trying to have everything be clean, or, in the case of a flower garden, it’s got to be perfect – no weeds. I really think this is an aspect of affluenza. We’re striving so hard for this sort of agreed upon perfection. It’s gotta be quick and perfect. If it’s not, we’re worried somebody’s gonna think we’re not as sharp as we should be, or that we’re not as wealthy as we should be. There’s always a looking over the shoulder. I really think that if it’s done in the right spirit, gardening can take us beyond that. ‘Here’s what I’m doing with my time. I’m not in there listening to the media or watching the media. I’m just doing what I enjoy doing.’ Filling your time with things that really satisfy you, takes you away from this whole affluenza mentality.”And how would you compare it to things like writing and reading and playing music and these types of things? What would you say is more conducive to discarding the affluenza?
“I’d say they all are. I’d say any way that we can take back our own minds. And I happen to do all those things that you’re talking about. I do play some music, and I am a writer. And I find that typically we have two sides of brain going – the intuitive and the rational. I really find that the way that we can best fulfill ourselves is if we do things that tap into all these aptitudes. I kind of think that I’m best in certain moods if I’m focusing, and then other times it’s great to unfocus and go work in the garden. It’s much less rational, and much more, in a way, mysterious. “There’s so many things going on in a garden, whether it’s a flower garden or vegetable garden, that we can’t see. Even in a Vail soil, which is, by comparison, not teeming with the invisible light. But still, any soil has all these little living things in it. In a bucketful of good garden soil, there are more microbes in that bucket than there are people on earth. We don’t have a clue about it, and that’s one reason why we do rush headlong into letting our land be developed poorly. And we’re destroying our land partly because we don’t understand all the value that it confers. We don’t give it any value because we don’t really understand how it works. So, I guess, in a way I could say that gardening is my politics because I really think it’s a valuable thing for kids to learn right from the start. “I’ve talked to so many people who are biologists, and so forth, who say, ‘My neighbors let me go graze in their garden.’ And it became this special thing that connected them with something that was a living cycle. I happen to be an environmental scientist – I work with EPA for 10 or 11 years. I’m not really a scientist in the sense of knowing all the chemistry and everything behind something, but I can see in the cycle of a garden how nature works. You get the whole deal. The life and death, what makes things thrive and how do begin to exercise this intuitive side of yourself. Walking through a garden, you can see where the trouble spots are; where you have to put a little focus, whether it’s looking for welts, leaf shininess, dry soil, this kind of thing. You learn to be right in that piece of nature, so you know the whole cycle of it.”Wann will be at the Vail Farmers’ Market today from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Vail Village.Andrew Harley can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.