# 14: Gardening a New Terrain, part 1

29 July 2015

            The Casa is done. Ish. A couple of little thingies to attend to and it will be as perfect as it ever will be. The Casita, our interim home, is pristine and waiting for guests. The book manuscript has gone out to readers. The kitties are well and growing; the dog is old and sleeping. The shipment of household goods from el Norte that hasn’t arrived yet is beyond our control. That leaves the gardens, which are as good a full-time obsession as any.

            When we first saw El Tanque (aka El Chamizal, aka the property that is the site of the Casa DaviLinda, aka La Casota), it was a 4,000 square meter ex-milpa (cornfield, about an acre) that hadn’t been planted in corn or beans in about six years. Scrubby trees on the eastern and western periphery. Carrizo cane on the northern boundary, near the zanja (ditch), and the southern border, near the road. The middle had been kept from going completely wild by a succession of neighborhood donkeys, mules, and horses that had been tethered to a stake pounded into the middle of the plot and had grazed it short enough to permit a walk-through. When we did, we kicked up some big lizards, small snakes, and a large assortment of insects. 

            We bought the land. We showed if off to the kids. We cleared it (well, had it cleared) with machetes, dug it up with a retroexcavadora, built the casita, and finished building the casa in May (ish) of this year a little before the start of the rainy season. 



From absolutely everyone the word was: “The rains are coming, and everything will wash away. Unless you can de-fang the water by channeling. Otherwise, everything bare and brown, everything not anchored by deep roots  . . .. down to the road, to the Río Atoyac, to the Pacific coast.” Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But
we got the point: do some hydrological first aid now.

So we did. We sculpted the land behind the house so it would not drain into the zanja. Rain falling on the houses would go 96% into the cisterns on the porches.

Water falling on the sides of the houses would, in times of deluge, go down to the road ... gently ... in what Linda calls ríos secos, channels filled with rounded river rocks heavy enough not

to be washed away by most things short of cataclysmic rain. One day, while I was away, it rained pretty hard, and they worked!

We began terracing the bare hill sloping steeply down from the casa and then gradually down to the bank over Calle Independencia. We planted camotes (root tubers) of carrizo cane along the bank, and instructed them to put down roots super fast.



We decided to let the lower half of the hill go wild. In May we hired one of Lalo’s trusted lieutenants, young Martín, to execute our design of paths up to the house through the terraces, terraces over which we had liberally spread water-retaining mulch. Then we crossed our fingers, mumbled a prayer to the local avatars of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, and drove north on a five week trip to Rhode Island. Two days before we got back we talked with Emma Solís, who was Casa-sitting for us, and learned that much work had been done, but that the previous night Martín had fallen from grace in a definitive way, so that with the blessing—make that the insistence—of the Santa Cruz/San Pablo constabulary, he had left town. Presumably forever.



After 8 days on the road and 3,500 miles, we drove in to Casa DaviLinda (and all its AKAs) at 2:00 in the afternoon, and by 6:00 had finished dealing with the needs and reports of Cynthia the architect, Lalo the contractor, Angel the plumber/electrician, and Emma the house sitter (who also updated us on the health crises of every member of her family). We finally took a pee-break, made ourselves some sandwiches, and sat on the porch to contemplate the “gardens.”


            During our five weeks away there had been some rain, none of it catastrophic, and not as much as expected, but enough to prod every plant with clorophyl in its veins to rouse from sleep mode and begin its race toward the light. In the part we had left wild, wisps of grass had become hay, smudges of green between the stones in the ríos secos had become chest-high shrubs, the bare gravel below the casita on which we had parked was carpeted with knee-high feathery stalks that would soon—folks assured us—produce yellow flowers. The half-dozen spindly plants that Linda and Martín had set into the mulch below the casa’s porch were flowering shrubs the size of bushel baskets. Basically, desert had become jungle, and it was out of control. We needed help.

            Back in October Lázaro Solís, the gardener at Tami and Karen’s house that we had rented for two winters, agreed to give us one day a week at the Casa DaviLinda, and for nearly three months he did. We planted flowers both behind and in front of the casita. We trimmed dead wood and put in the row of coffee plants.