Cramscaping For The Long Haul

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When The Blue Wave Breaks, They Can Run But They Can’t Hide

Persisting Inside And Out

After almost one full year, my tiny garden is as full as it can hold. Annuals and perennials billow over the sides of my only raised bed, while large stock watering troughs hold edibles, herbs and flowers in an enticing jumble. The jumble is not random, however; it’s a working example of the technique known as Cramscaping. When you love more plants than you have reasonable room for, Cramscaping is your best friend. Properly carried out, Cramscaping involves interweaving plants of all kinds, carefully placing them to accommodate the changing needs of each as the seasons unfold. In my little garden, it involves blending edibles and ornamentals, ephemerals like peas and longer-lived clematis, gardenias, Kosmic Kale (our top favorite). On a larger scale, Cramscaping takes the Mixed Border model a step further, mingling trees and shrubs, perennials and bulbs, grasses and annuals, all intertwined with groundcovers large and small, and pots, pots, pots! Indeed, the technique can be scaled down to a single pot packed with culturally compatible plants. The goal (for me, anyway) is to rejoice in a steady succession of marvelous beauties all through the year.

Right now, the garden vibrates with bee buzz as dozens of pollinators feast on the well packed bounty. Many pollinators especially enjoy the blossoms of bolting cilantro and radishes as well as spinach and parsley. To promote succession, I allow the least successful plants of each crop to bolt and bloom, bringing in the pollinators and ensuring ongoing crops by modest self sowing. When long bloomers like calendulas, poppies, clarkia and sweet alyssum are spent, I pull the plants and shake them along the edges of the troughs and the raised bed, and into the verges of the gravel driveway. Already these edges foam with flowers and smaller grasses, softening the hard lines of wall and trough and expanding the scanty garden space.

Blue Wave On My Mind

On any sunny day, we can count over a dozen kinds of bees on the great spills of my favorite catmints, which range in size from Little Titch at 12-18” to Six Hills Giant at 3-4’. As their long stalks bloom out, I cut back the outer half, which refreshes in a few weeks. At that point, I trim back the inner half and it too responds with another wave of blue. It reminds me that so many of us are hoping for a Blue Wave in November, and I’m thinking that just as we have to refresh our plants to keep them going, we need to find ways to refresh our energy to keep working for positive change in our towns and states and country and the world. What helps us refresh when we grow weary and discouraged?

That question came up last week during a zoom meeting of my Senior Center’s Inclusion Study Group. Our usual gathering of oldies was refreshed by the arrival of half a dozen high school kids and several of their teachers. One of their questions resonated strongly for all of us: How do you keep up your hope and energy while working for positive change over many years? The kids said they feel like there have been wave after wave of occurrences that call for protests all through their whole lives. We agreed and said the same is true for our several generations. The world always needs mending and we are called to make and mend as best we can. For me, coping with the overwhelming barrage of badness has required several strategies, including periodic media fasts and peaceful retreats. I feel blessed that the garden has always been a sure refuge in times of trouble and grief, whether it offers the opportunity for ferocious chopping and furious weeding or slow, soothing tasks like gathering seeds and potting up seedlings.

Seeds For The Future

Gathering and sowing seeds is of course an act of hope and faith in the future. Having thoughtful, frank conversations with ardent young people feels the same way; passing along our experience, hope and strength is like sowing seeds of skillful activists who will carry on into the future. Eager to help us here and now, the young people suggested that those of us who can’t attend protests anymore could organize a car cavalcade, as graduating high school seniors have been doing locally. Instead of marching to support the Black Lives Matter movement, we could cover our cars with banners and drive slowly in a peaceful show of enduring activism. We may be slowing down, but we do know how to keep on keeping on.

Successful activism relies on succession, bringing in and encouraging young people to stand up and speak out about issues that they are passionate about. Working with young people makes me realize that times have seriously changed. For us oldies, the world our adult kids and grandkids experience is very different to what we experienced at their ages. Friends with young kids say the same thing; each generation grows up in a different world. How do we cross those generational divides to communicate? Talking with young people reminds me of seed sowing, scattering what we hope with take root and develop. Nature is generous, creating millions of seeds though only a relative handful will mature to produce seed in turn. As parents, as grandparents, as teachers and educators, perhaps just a few of the millions of messages we shower on our children will flourish and bear fruit, but those few can change the course of history.

Promoting Steady Growth

Successful Cramscaping depends on good soil, good drainage, and good air circulation, creating and maintaining conditions that promote steady growth. A Cramscaped garden is packed full, but carefully tended to make sure that all participants get what they need. As soon as the dark orange horned poppies (Glaucium flavum ssp. aurantiacum) ripen their slender seed pods, I’ll cut them back to allow more light and air so my moon carrots (Seseli gumiferum) can launch their tall stems tipped with puffy umbels unhindered. Over time, the mix will change as permanent plants claim the space they need and short timers fade away. Eventually, a working balance is achieved and the gardener can steer with a lighter hand. Working respectfully with younger people reminds me that nurturing rising generations also takes a lighter hand, and elders may do better to provide stories rather than advice.

The enormous surge of protests around the world is encouraging thoughtful conversations in families and communities, perhaps deeper and bolder than ever before. If we have means, we simply don’t experience the pandemic the way people with fewer resources do. How can we build our understanding of what Black people and other people of color are experiencing in terms of safety and ability to stay home and stay well, now and throughout their whole lives? Life experiences color our feelings as white or Black people or people of color, from small town to big city, from activist youth to perhaps complacent maturity. What shaped our ideas about police and policing? Some of us always viewed police as military (from civil rights/Vietnam war protests on) while others were taught that the police are our kind and good helpers; are our embedded beliefs accurate today? MLK said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” What do we think/feel about looting as part of protests? Peaceful protests are far more comfortable, but is there a truth missing? These are the things I’m pondering as I pull up bindweed (surely a living metaphor!) and fill yet another trough with fresh soil. Onward!


This entry was posted in Garden Design, Health & Wellbeing, Plant Diversity, Plant Partnerships, Pollination Gardens, Social Justice, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cramscaping For The Long Haul

  1. Tom King says:

    “Keep on keeping on” is one of my stock maxims, as is “Endurance is insurance.”
    I have often wondered over the decades if humans are a failed species. Our violent and destructive history is certainly no recommendation. I once told a biologist friend that I believed the planet would be better off without humans. He said, “No, we have a necessary place in the system. But it would be better if humans were fewer and smarter.”
    Maybe that’s whats happening now.

    Thanks for the good read, Ann. A real thinker.

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