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Friday, January 11, 2008

Let 1000 Flower Bulbs Bloom...


Five years ago when we bought the flooded mess that we (Dan) would turn into the Elkhorn Inn, there was nothing out front and to the sides of the building (as well as inside the building) but mud & debris. And by debris, I mean rusted appliances and moldy furntiure, topped with the heartbreaking remnants of people's lives that surface every time it rains following a flood disaster: plastic silverware, kitchen tablecloths, broken cups, shards of glass, children's toys... (Five years later, things Still surface when it rains here...) The only thing in the door-less, mud-filled building were 6 antique, claw-foot bathtubs, which I, being a NYer, doted on & couldn't wait to soak in- once my husband, (wearing his "plumber" hat), could figure out how to create hot water...
Our basement had 5 feet of mud in it, and Dan, with 2 helpers, cleared it out with shovels during the December 2002 Ice Storm. The truth is that you really don't understand what "5 feet of mud" is until you're eye-to-eye with it, and you're 4'9" tall, and the icy, solid mountain of garbage-studded mud is over your head...
The first thing Dan did that winter was gut the entire first floor of the 90' x 40' building, power-wash it three times with bleach and dry it out to get rid of the mold that went 6 feet up the walls, after which, in January of 2003, we could safely move in. The next thing he did was take the 5 feet of mud out of the basement & install hot water boilers in its place. The next thing he did was crawl the length of the building 12 times during the ice storm, playing "hunt that leak" and repairing three lines of busted plumbing so we could finally fill those Ab Fab claw-foot bathtubs with hot water. (You know how much you REALLY love someone when you're bathing with Clorox Wet Ones for a week. The "kitchen" was so cold that water froze in the sink nightly).
And pretty much the next thing he did that winter was build me a garden in the front of the building. He dragged railroad ties into place for a border, filled it with basement mud topped with pick-up truck-loads of potting soil, and planted rose bushes in it.
I will never forget it, because those rose bushes made my heart sing.
Dan & I both had a "vision" for this place, and oddly it was the same one, but one that no one else could see, so they thought we were nuts & would be gone inside of 6 months. (What they didn't know was that we had no place to go!) Where everyone else saw a slated-for-demolition disaster-wrecked shell, we saw an elegant mansion with flowers out front, and cute umbrella tables and chairs on the patio, where we'd sit with a cup of coffee, watching the birds at the feeders...
(We both, obviously, lead a pretty heavy fantasy life...)
And when Dan surprised me with that first garden my heart literally leapt because I knew not only that our "vision" was for real, and that he'd be able to make it so, but also that he loved me with all his heart.
The "garden" thing took on a life of its own, however, as my Aggie Roots began to reassert themselves. As a teen I had to choose between Art & Agriculture, and temporarily, at least, Ag won. I went to John Bowne High School in Queens, NY as an Aggie. (I still have my blue, corduroy FFA jacket with the big seal on the back, my name embroidered in gold, & my Chapter Farmer pin). My Dream Book was the Burpee Seed Catalog, my hero was Gregor Mendel, and my father built me a Gro-Lamp greenhouse in our attic where I grew gardenias & african violets. My goal, at the time, was to go to Cornell and major in botany & plant genetics, but I wound up at The Cooper Union as an art major after realizing that I Sucked at math, having nearly flunked both HS Algebra & Chemistry. I did, however, spend many months from the age of 16 working on Kibbutzim in Israel, and some of my happiest memories are of riding a tractor through the cotton fields of Givat HaShlosha at daybreak, in my bathing suit, fat & brown & muscled, noting down how many bugs were caught in each of the traps...
But I became an illustrator and a writer, and plants dropped out of my life to the point that I couldn't keep a houseplant going for more than 2 weeks.
And then came West Virginia.
You may be able to drag a girl off the kibbutz, but you can't suck kibbutz out of the girl!
We now had LAND- real land! Not just a postage-stamp-sized yard, either- we had Serious Land! Places for trees and rose bushes and herbs and vegetables... and bulbs! LOTS of bulbs! And so the annual saga of the fall bulb planting began.
I will say that from the beginning Dan backed my gardening obsession, but Very Grudgingly at first. He helped me, brought home Garden Tools & Bulb Food, and even a Giant Insecticide Spray Gun with a back-pack tank, & he did do the Heavy Work, as they say, which involved tilling up the coal-lump filled rock-hard soil with a spade, but he did it with a sour look on his face and only after the ground had pretty much frozen, making bulb-planting a miserable and painful exercise. But we got the damn things in finally, and when April came around it was truly breathtaking. Car-stopping gorgeous. I was vindicated, and so I wanted More- not just in the front of the building, but on the sides, too...
And so Dan (still grudgingly) built us Another garden, this time on the parking lot side: dragging in more railroad ties, hauling in more truckloads of dirt...
With the dirt came the need for annuals, to put in after the bulbs faded, and then perrennials, so we wouldn't have to put in so many annuals each year... Then came the goofy, mail-order 5-fruit tree I'd always wanted as a kid, and the 2 half-dead bargain-bin peach trees from BigLots that we coaxed back to life, and the wild lilies we dug up on the side of highway & replanted on the other side of the buidling, and the Paulownia treelings & the butterfly bushes...
So then Dan dragged in some More railroad ties and several More tons of Dirt and built me (still grudgingly) the veggie/herb garden of my wildest, Aggie dreams, and we planted tomatoes and corn and cucumbers and peppers and basil and potatoes and sunflowers and... (more on "Kibbutz Goldstein-Clark" in another post...) And then the Burpee & Park Seed catalogs started to arrive, and I entered Dan's recipe for oregano-stuffed roast turkey in their contest and he won First Prize, so we had a $50 gift certificate with which to buy still More plants, and then in November bulbs went on Super Sale again at Wal-Mart...
And then Dan attended a WV Tourism Conference and came home with the expression "curb appeal"... And the next thing you know, he was building a ramp (more RR Ties) and another garden (still more RR ties, additional tons of dirt & mulch...), and I was ordering another 35 ton of gravel for the parking lot.
And tho' he still rolls his eyes when Tulip Planting Season arrives, he also comes home from Wally World with flats of annuals and giant, bargain bags of bulbs...




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