What I Learned Last Week

I’m terribly behind with posting – I’ve been sick for the past week, which means I’ve been focused on accomplishing only those things that are actually required and sleeping as much as possible. One of the required activities last week was volunteering at the 2009 Water Conservation/Xeriscape Conference organized by the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico. This year’s timely theme was “Watershed-Foodshed.” In between my volunteer duties I was able to sit in on a few sessions featuring some of my favorite advocates of sustainable landscape practices: Toby Hemenway on permaculture, Brad Landcaster on water harvesting and Judith Phillips on habitat gardens. For me, however, the most engaging speaker was Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti, LLC and author Mycelium Running. Maybe because fungi are largely a mystery to me, I was absolutely riveted. I remember when I was hiking around White Sands National Monument in September, I was delighted by the seemingly incongruous sight of a lone mushroom that had popped up out of the glistening sand. Thanks to the fungi seminar, I now know that the mushroom was merely a hint of an incredible underground world. I can’t wait to get my hands on Paul Stamets’ book so I can delve into the world of fungi more deeply. . .

Mushroom at White Sands

Backyard Habitat

Urban Habitat

Yesterday I took the morning off from construction and demolition to visit a National Wildlife Federation certified habitat garden. This garden is only about 12 or so blocks from where I live, however, it’s like a whole different world. The garden is well established. The major trees and shrubs were planted about 15 years ago, so there is a dense screen of green blocking the views of neighboring houses and muffling the traffic noise. You would have no idea that Central Avenue is only three blocks away. What a contrast to the barren wasteland with tiny nubbins that I’m trying to cultivate.

What not to do

When we moved into our Albuquerque house in 2006, it was easy to live in denial. Seven months of severe drought had rendered the yard a seemingly blank slate. We definitely had not purchased a house with a lawn. Absolutely not. When monsoon season arrived it became more difficult to maintain that state of denial. The Bermuda grass miraculously regenerated, rapidly turning into a thick expanding mat.

August 2006

So, despite reading all sorts of sound advice that advocated converting a traditional landscape to a Xeriscape in stages, choosing small projects that could be accomplished in a single season, I purchased a pickaxe and, in my stubborn way, decided to eradicate all the grass in the front yard as soon as possible. Needless to say, I quickly became known as the insane new neighbor. Each time it rained I had a three or four day window of opportunity as the impenetrable hard packed clay was temporarily rendered into a slippery, but workable, mess. I would work late into the evening chopping out sections of grass and moving around piles of dirt to create a system of swales and berms. Twenty-two months later, I’m still not quite done.

April 2008

There punch line to this story. Due to my involvement with the Xeric Garden Club of Albuquerque, I frequently receive calls and email from folks looking for advice on converting their own yards. And yet here I am a stunning example of what not to do. . .