Casaubon's Book

As I mentioned in a previous post about Carol Deppe’s wonderful _The Resilient Gardener_, all garden books are fundamentally local. That localness is why I so love _Gardens of Use and Delight_ by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardner. I discovered this book last year at my local library, and have taken it out half a dozen times, enough that I must, finally, purchase it.

The Gardeners bought an old farm in Cape Breton and gradually, over decades, transformed it into a place that is both beautiful and productive, despite terrible soil, a cold climate and a host of disadvantages. What’s wonderful about the book is that it is a step-by-step explanation of how they integrated beauty and utility into their landscape. They began the project of feeding themselves and their family by necessity in the 1950s, with a host of hungry young kids and a minimal income, and the farm emerged from a mix of necessities – a desire to integrate livestock and gardens into their lives, the need to keep the table full, the desire for beauty and utility, and then an emerging business in herbs, dried flowers and jams.

In some ways, designing a farm is harder than designing a suburban lot – the framework and limitations of a garden and yards are useful – the problem with scope is that it often has too much potential, at least for me. Starting up a big garden, integrating the big vegetable garden with the herb and flower beds, dealing with the challenges of livestock around a garden, making the large whole into something unified – these are projects I am still working on, and I find this book enormously valuable, because it offers a view of how it could be done, and indeed, has been done, not by perfect people with perfect design sense, but by experimenters and explorers rather like me.

Over thirty or more years, they have done what I’m working on doing, more or less, and it is fascinating to watch them explain their process – and their mistakes. I was heartened by this observation, which entirely matches my own experience:

“It was not until the late 1980s, after we had been laboring here for more than fifteen years, that we had learned enough to be fairly certain of what we were doing and could begin to make it clear to ourselves – and then to the reader.”

So much of the emphasis in design rests on the idea that one should be able to understand and anticipate one’s landscape quickly, and for the long term. I’m sure many better gardeners and farmers than I can – but I am grateful to find that beauty and utility are not out of the reach of someone who only begins to know their own goals and work well enough after time to articulate them, and who makes an elaborate repetoir of mistakes on the trip.

When I first arrived here, beauty took a back seat to utility – I was too busy learning to grow vegetables, managing livestock and starting the farm to worry about how it all looked. As time has passed, I’ve developed more aesthetic sense – and a better sense of how beauty and utility work together, but this is the best book I’ve seen on making that happen in a cold climate, on poor soil, with limited resources. They never seem to have had money to throw at their problems, they have always been limited by their place and its climate, and they have used those limits as a framework to create something both artful and beautiful, of which they are justly proud.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 mysisterdalesgarden
    January 11, 2011

    Sharon, Every day I find a new garden blog or article—today I found yours. I’m drawn to photos of flowers and garden hints.

    When my sister passed away from Lung Cancer I started a memorial garden in her honor. That garden has grown into a magical, peaceful place. What started with a Peach Tree has now developed into a tropical showcase. I have taken over 5000 pictures of the flowers, fruit, trees and vegetables. I post them daily on my website. Please read the comments from people who have been touched by the garden’s beauty and the message. http://www.mysisterdalesgarden.com you will find the most recent photos and comments in photo gallery 1. I’m trying to make a difference one flower at a time.

    See you in the garden,
    Miriam

  2. #2 Claire
    January 11, 2011

    I had a sort-of plan when I started my garden, but it has changed in many ways as I go along. It’s comforting to find out that long-time gardeners and farmers – at least some of them – allow their plans and ideas to change as they learn and change.

  3. #3 islami sohbet
    January 12, 2011

    İtalya’nın AC Milan kulübünde forma giyen Brezilyalı yıldız futbolcu Ronaldinho, Brezilya’nın Flamengo takımına transfer oldu.

    Flamengo Kulübü, resmi intrenet sitesinden yaptığı açıklamada Ronaldinho ile 2014 yılı ocak ayına kadar sözleşme imzaladıklarını bildirdi. Flamnego’nun bu transfer için AC Milan Kulübü’ne 3 milyon Euro ödeyeceği, Brezilyalı futbolcuya ise haftalık 130 bin Euro vereceği öğrenildi.

    İki kez “Dünyada Yılın Futbolcusu” ödülünü kazanan Ronaldinho için Gremio ve Flamengo’nun yanı sıra Palmeiras ve Blackburn Rovers kulüpleri de transfer girişiminde bulunmuştu.

  4. #4 et
    January 13, 2011

    15 years is “only” a little more than 2 crop rotations given a 6 or 7 year cycle. A humbling thought.

  5. #5 S Ensslin
    January 17, 2011

    I got this book from the library because I thought it would give me some useful ideas. I live in the same region as they do. Alas, when I read about how their soil had such poor texture and fertility that it was totally unsuitable for agriculture after a few years, and didn’t respond to amendments, this made me very concerned. I checked the soil maps, and where they live they have about average soil for Nova Scotia. We are going to be in serious trouble here in N.S. if we have the sort of soil problems that they did on a widespread basis, and there is probably no reason why we wouldn’t. The soils in the hinterland of our main city, Halifax, are especially poor and barely exist in places. This was a very sobering book, for something called Gardens of Use and Delight.

  6. #6 darwinsdog
    January 17, 2011

    ..their soil had such poor texture and fertility that it was totally unsuitable for agriculture after a few years, and didn’t respond to amendments..

    Wherever one lives, one must deal with the soil that occurs there, if anything is to be grown. Very few places on Earth’s surface natively had a soil ideal for agriculture, and these soils have been severely degraded. The first accommodation that must be made to local edaphic conditions is to grow plants adapted to those conditions. No matter how poor a soil, it can be improved by the addition of organic matter. It may take an enormous amount of compostable materials and time before soil texture & fertility improves, but eventually it will. Now is the time to be collecting, composting, applying, working in.. organic materials, while gasoline is still available for hauling it in truck & trailer. Never miss an opportunity to collect anything that will rot. Even with power equipment, soil improvement is hard work. Lacking power equipment, it is a grueling, never-ending chore, in most places. Perhaps it’s just easier to buy food trucked in from elsewhere. I contend that it’s worthwhile to improve soil and gain experience at providing one’s own sustenance, as practice for the time when the alternative to doing so will be starvation.

  7. #7 SEnsslin
    January 21, 2011

    darwinsdog,
    You’re absolutely right, but you need to have access to that land. My concern is that I don’t see a lot af people doing that, and that in my region, people are so complacent about farmland. They don’t realize that even what we have we might not be able to use productively when we need to. I’ve been looking a lot at the soil maps and reports for the province, and it’s not positve.

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