Monday, February 21, 2011

Rock Gardening in the February Sun

February weather always teases me into feeling that real spring is just around the bend. After ten years in Colorado I know the warm weather and sweet air do not mean the end of freezing night temperatures nor do they mean the snow has all passed. We will get another snowstorm, probably a big one. But for now, with snowdrops and violets peeking through the mulch, temperatures kissing fifty, and finches and juncos singing about love, I need to get out into the garden. Since I cannot plant anything and I'm not doing any winter sowing this year, I've been moving rocks.

Our house was built in 1950, and sometime in the last sixty years someone moved a whole lot of rocks into our yard. I keep uncovering them, most about the size of two fists nestled together. Some are larger, requiring my rusty red wheelbarrow to move. Every year I shift them about, front yard to back, side to side, circling beds or marking paths. One year I made a spiral of rocks, but I kept tripping over them on the way to the garden. An apple tree is planted in that spot now. Some years I line them up as borders, other years I scatter them for a more natural look.

This year I have an idea to turn a strip along the south-facing fence, which has never grown vegetables or anything but weeds very well, into a rock garden. I'm on the hunt for a dwarf pine tree or two, and I picture these resiny evergreens surrounded by a natural scattering of rocks nestled with thymes, pasqueflower, and heuchera or something little and white and dainty. I stare at the garden for ten minutes until one row of rocks looks all wrong and I rip it out. Another row seems to cut off the flow of a pathway, so that comes out. Then the pathway, flagstone also uncovered near the front door shortly after we moved in and promptly moved into the back garden, also looks all wrong. I feel the need to pull it all out and do it the right way, raking the soil flat, putting down sand, reconstructing the mosaic stone path, and tucking in dwarf thyme into the cracks.

This is the perfect time of year for this garden task, as I can see the shape of the yard without greenery. It's all bones and brown grass. Rock bones, not animal bones. Bones of the earth. As I haul and dream I feel connected to the builders of Stonehenge and artists like Andy Goldsworthy who crafts outdoor sculptures out of natural objects. I aspire to craft a garden of art, though mostly it's more like a pile of rocks here and a smattering there. I recall how Rebecca Dye, landscape architect, listens to the rocks she places in gardens. They tell her where they want to go and with which other rocks they want to sit (I wrote about Rebecca in Sacred Land). I try to listen to the rocks. The result is more alive than a random placing, if no Andy Goldsworthy.

I feel more alive, too, carrying rocks about the yard, dreaming of spring and feeling my own roots stretch into the cool dark earth. My work becomes a conversation between my hands and heart, the land, the stones, and the spring-like day. Spring planting may be a while off yet, but by playing with rocks I get to stretch my gardening fingers and am happy.

No comments: