While I’ve only been here the equivalent of a generous five minutes and my impressions are based on the airport, the view from a cab, an enthusiastic cabbie, and the grounds of my hotel I have a few thoughts about Austin, Texas.
- Tillandsia! – Ya’ll didn’t tell me you have tillandsia. I really didn’t believe they were tillandsia when I first spotted the telltale blobs in the tree branches. I came up with a few possible explanations before a close look revealed that yep, ya’ll have tillandsia. You really know how to charm me Texas.
- Turns out it gets cold in Texas – How do the tillandsia survive when I thought I might die walking from the parking lot to the hotel door? Look, I understand cold. I left a winter wonderland just this morning. But this is Texas! Isn’t it supposed to be warm here? Given that I intend to spend most of my time here outside in gardens it looks like I’m going to have to make an emergency run for warm gear. Turns out that a long sleeve shirt and spring jacket just isn’t going to quite cut it.
- You have trees that lose their leaves – Who knew? I didn’t. I stupidly assumed it didn’t get that cold this far south. Lesson learned.
- Ya’ll’d inspired the creation of what I think could be a new word – And with it’s use of not one but TWO apostrophes it seems very much in line with Texan vernacular. Like Texas plus! Incidentally it means “you all would” or “you all did.”
- There are palm trees in Austin – I expected a few here and there but it turns out they are all over the place here. And not just your scrubby fan palms either. Texas you are blowing my mind.
- Where are your Texas stereotypes Austin? – I need stories to take back home to the Canadians. So far I have not seen an overabundance of patriotism, guns, gun shops, gun racks or cowboys. Except for that one monster-truck-sized SUV and a man asking for directions with a distinct twang I have seen very little that screams, You have now entered Texas! Run for your life! If I do not go home bearing tacky souvenirs this trip will not have been a success.
I get to experience my first real day in Austin tomorrow. I really didn’t know what to expect about this landscape and so far it has been an education. The next few days should make the hell I endured traveling here completely worth it.
I spotted this bromeliad growing out of a wall. It was so interesting to see them growing outdoors and to observe how they respond to a dry period.
Davin took a photo of me standing next to the same bromeliad because I have this dumb tourist thing about having my picture taken with plants I like. Some people reserve these sorts of “I was there!” snaps for popular destinations, I on-the-other-hand want to remember the moment I saw my first flowering agave, tree fern, wild-growing orchid, or tillandsia etc.
I took this photograph only two months ago in Cuba, which is kind of hard to believe given that it feels more like 2 years ago! I decided to pull this photo up today as a reminder to myself of what it was like to experience sunshine, warm breezes and so much greenery. Thankfully I am going to Austin, TX in a couple of days and am literally counting the hours and minutes until my feet touch the ground without the aid of moon boots and several layers of protective clothing. And to top it off I will be visiting a number of fantastic gardens to photograph for the Green Minds Project. I can’t wait!
More from the Cactus Garden outside Santiago de Cuba: 1 | 2
This is the first package of seeds I have purchased for the 2008 growing season. Of course I have acquired other seeds via trades but this was the first I bought. It has a decidedly Canadian sounding name, no? It makes sense given that the plant heralds from Beverlodge Research Center in Alberta. I bought it because one of my longterm goals is to try as many tomato varieties as possible to determine which varieties are the best for container gardeners. My criteria for judging ranges from how they fair and yield in smallish containers to taste and attractiveness.
People often ask me about my own gardens and I often feel I have to explain that despite the fact that I am an artist, they are not really self-expressive or artistic gardens but have become experimental spaces. In some ways they aren’t really mine to do as I please but where I try out different plants, varieties and techniques so I can learn as much as possible within each growing season.
From ages 13-18 I was determinedly set on an educational path towards becoming some sort of scientist. By age 18 I was starting to question that choice as I also had a deep longing to make art and interests in other areas (i.e cultural theory and other humanities subjects). Everything changed one evening when I looked around my grade 13 Chemistry night school classroom and had the sudden, clear realization that while I liked the gadgets and the experimentation I was not at all cut out for a life in science. The reason why I am telling you that bit of history about myself is to explain that forgoing the personal choice for experimentation is not exactly a hardship. I enjoy it equally to self-expression.
In that sense I think I am drawn into gardening through a range of interests. I like the physicality of it, of using my muscles and interacting with soil and plants. I like it as a creative outlet, making beautiful spaces with plants and junk. Which leads to my life-long appreciation for making something out of nothing. Sure we can’t garden with literally nothing, this isn’t magic after all. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the “stuff” we think we need, but in the end we can do a lot with just a handful of seeds and somewhere to put them. It is in that sense that I don’t understand why we focus on depicting gardening as an expensive pursuit. People of all classes garden. Of course there are financial limitations (who owns space and has access to it, and resources that are both financial and in the form of leisure time) but I am just as amazed by the back alley tomato farm as I am by a high-faluting potager. Every garden is a place of wonder with so much to discover and learn from. That aspect of it connects me to my child brain, where my interest in the sciences was really more about uncovering and reveling in a sense of wonder and awe about nature. From that perspective the choices that led me to being so deeply entrenched in this pursuit were the right ones. It taps into several different sides of my brain and has pushed me in areas I didn’t realize needed pushing.
Gardening is a unique activity in that it can be approached from so many different angles. Every gardener has their own personal reasons for being drawn to it and for sticking with it throughout their lives.
So today’s post ends with a question for you. Why are you drawn to gardening? How does it tap into your interests?
Can you believe You Grow Girl is eight years old? Neither can I. Sometimes it feels like all of this has passed in a blink of an eye. Eight years is a small child in grade three. When I look at it that way it pretty much blows my mind.
Of course I would be lying if I didn’t say that some days it feels like an eternity has passed in those eight years. On a personal level I really grew up with this project. It started as a fun idea based on an offhand remark from a friend poking fun at my obsession with gardening, and has changed and evolved over the years into what is probably (at least in hours clocked) the central focus of my life. So much has gone on behind the scenes over the years — I am often asked to explain what this is and the impact it has had on my life but to be honest, even after all this time, I still haven’t formed a language to encapsulate it. I know this is a bit cliche to say but there really is no way I could have predicted eight years ago the path this project would lead me down. And to be honest, things change so quickly and extremely that I really have no idea where it will lead me still.
I have a lot of people to thank for their help and support over the years — some who have been around since almost the start and others that have come and gone. Some of you contributed when the site was a magazine, some have moderated the forums, contributed to discussions, bought a t-shirt, came out to events, or just wrote and said “Hi.”
More than anyone I have to take a moment to thank my partner Davin Risk. He has quietly and patiently put more hours and thankless work into this project both behind the scenes and in a public sphere then I ever could have anticipated and to be honest ever had the right to ask. Over the years he has quietly stepped in to help in countless ways: from all sorts of technical and design work, to unofficial portrait photographer; to helping hand and unpaid laborer in the gardens and at various events and workshops (he has absorbed so much about gardening over the years that I look to him when my mind draws a blank); to being my shoulder when things got crazy, to basically living with and tolerating the endless insanity I have brought into our home and lives through this endeavor. Not only has he tolerated all of this for eight years without complaint, but during the times I have threatened to pack it in and get a “real job” he has always insisted I keep going. He’s a keeper.
Thanks so much to Organic Gardening magazine, Urban Harvest, and Recreating Eden for donating such excellent prizes (totaling approximately $120).