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Blackouts and Enchanted Gardens

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Here on the home farm, we used October's electricity-free hours to get ahead of winter gardening chores. Our clover cover crop has successfully germinated and the leaves on the apple trees and blueberries are turning lovely shades of yellow and crimson. We carefully stacked firewood, cleared out the summer vegetables and got out the barrels to catch rain off the roof. The blackout, as startling as it was, gave us extra time to catch up on growing food. As the days become rapidly shorter, we've made the most of the mid-autumn sunshine. We're planting cool weather-loving leafy greens like spinach and arugula. We're filling the gaps in the cabbage patch and planting onions and leeks. Spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips can also be planted now. It's also a fabulous time to apply cardboard or mulch layering to clear new areas for farming next spring.

Recently a good gardener friend of ours said, "Make a secret garden out of the ugliest and messiest part of the landscape." Spending most of our waking hours outside in the windy sunshine during the blackouts, we began to brainstorm. We've got no shortage of chaos portals — productivity can lead to piles. We decided to do the boring things first like put away tools and supplies. Like why is the Leaning Tower of Paint Cans in the middle of the garden shed? Sweeping out the shed and restoring order led to the discovery of some abandoned abalone shells, and a mermaid garden was born!

Creating a fantasy garden can bring home farming to a whole new level. Sometimes the magic of the plant kingdom — watching things grow from seeds to maturity — takes a little longer than anticipated and we need a fun distraction to keep us going outside every day. Integrating a visual representation of garden magic such as mermaids, fairies, gnomes and angels adds artistic flair to inspire us through the routine tasks of watering, weeding and composting. Who cares what the weather is like? We need to visit the mermaid. Children especially feel drawn toward small friends tucked away in unexpected places. The focal character can be personalized and live wherever needed. Our mermaid garden consists of ferns and seashells. A fairy garden can be dotted with any flower and crystal combination. Dinosaurs might lurk in the cactus or succulent garden, and gnomes in the culinary herbs. Let the imagination wander and ugly untidiness will disappear. In order to maintain a natural aesethic, avoid plastic and make your magical creatures out of stone, glass or ceramics that withstand the elements without fading or peeling away.

Getting down to the magical scale generally means thinking in inches rather than feet. Creating tiny worlds within a large backyard takes a certain amount of planning to feel whimsical rather than haphazard. Don't be discouraged if things get lost in the weeds or knocked over in a windstorm. The idea is to bring life to challenging spots of the landscape, such as shade and fence lines. Fountains, wind chimes and solar lights bring a magical feel to any normal yard. Mosaics, spray paint and hand painted yard signs also quickly change the vibe from suburban backyard to enchanted garden. Sweet groundcovers, like baby tears, alyssum and violets, offer easy-to-care-for "micro" plants that can support the character of your choosing. Climbing roses and vines, such as passionflower, wisteria or trumpet vine, also offer ways to use vertical space that might otherwise go empty of botanical life.

Allow the enchanted garden to evolve over time. The passage of seasons offers a chance to observe the garden under all light angles and weather conditions. Moving figures around during each season can make the landscape seem different enough to inspire new plantings and outdoor use areas, such a morning coffee spot, rainy day hideaway or summer dinner area.

As energy uncertainty continues, we aspire to go off the grid now more than ever. Why not use the solar juice to replace one electric device at a time? A great place to start is by putting up a clothesline. We quit using the dryer a few years back and much prefer using sunlight to dry our clothes, bot for the fresh smell and how sunlight kills bacteria and viruses without any harsh chemicals.

Thinking about the potential of losing electricity during the darkest time of the year makes us focus on natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset, as well as keeping the fire going to stay warm. As the mega-model for electricity in California becomes less reliable, let's think about food and energy on a small scale. However life changes, we can always count on the sun rising and the food to keep growing.

Katie Rose McGourty is the owner of Healthy Living Everyday at www.healthy-living-everyday.org. She prefers she/her.

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