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Getting back to the garden

Sunday just passed, September 11, the 21st anniversary of the event that changed everything in the USA, I didn't work on printing or the garden.

I took the day off to drive north a few hours to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, and do the annual Placitas Garden Tour.

I confess I hadn't done adequate research ahead of time. I thought I was going to the Village of Placitas the historic northern New Mexico settlement, on land originally inhabited by Puebloan peoples, then, in 1767, granted, by the Spanish Crown, to 21 Spanish families.

Two centuries later, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Woodstock era, back-to-the-land Counter Culture movement brought the concept of alternative lifestyle to the area.

Several communes flared and burnt out, among them Tawapa, Lower and Little Farms and Domesa

The zip code has undergone considerable gentrification since. With a 2010 census population of almost 5000, (probably way more now) and not a Puebloan or hippie in sight, Placitas is now part of the Greater Albuquerque Metropolitan Area. Though street names reflect the Puebloan and Spanish history, in the words of one garden owner on Sunday: "Everyone in Placitas is from somewhere else."

The roughly 30 acre area which is today designated as Placitas, has been developed with terminal sameness: new Southwest adobe style residences all in the same fake mud earth palette, perched amongst the juniper and piñon of high desert mountain slopes and requiring, for claim, a devil's bargain in significant financial investment or more likely, as is the American way, indebtedness to money lenders, their tables in the temple yet unturned.

After leaving home before sunrise, when I arrived in Placitas jet streams scribbled kanji in the sky. I thought about the lines from the song: "And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes/Riding shotgun in the sky/Turning into butterflies/Above our nation..."


My garden tour started at one of those Southwest adobe style structures which garners my approval: the community library.

The library, as is only right and fitting, is a gathering and information point for this garden tour, and, as library buildings do, also offered clean, functioning restrooms and a community meeting room showcasing an exhibition of local artists' work. There were also urns of free, really good coffee, with choice of dairy or oat milk.

Though it wasn't on the official tour, this library boasts a labyrinth and an indigenous garden set about with contemplation benches. I found my way to them unassisted.

My favourite amongst the benches was the rabbit.

I walked the labyrinth and admired the indigenous garden in the early morning light.

I probably could have/should have called it done on the garden tour right then and there, left the rest of the designated display garden destinations alone.

I did hold myself to the commitment, however, and attempt to find the the gardens in the glossy brochure.

It wasn't the easiest thing.

The modern day housing development of Placitas is spread out with the rather indistinguishable, due to conformity of architectural style, houses, set on maze like winding streets full of dead ends.

Except for one destination which required a shuttle, which always seemed to be ten minutes away from being there, it was a self drive tour. I tried several times to take the shuttle, and got tired of waiting every time so I didn't see the hilltop citadel of the Overlook Garden. I also tried to walk up to the site and was forbidden on grounds that there are no sidewalks so it wasn't safe for pedestrians. There was also no traffic, but I forget myself. I was in an elite residential development in the USA, not the streets of Mumbai or Lagos.

Parking was problematic at all the gardens (neighbours must hate this annual event), especially as the day grew older and more people were taking the tour.

Similarly with more people crowding into gardens, it became progressively more challenging to admire a particular garden's uniqueness or relationship with space, place and architecture.

While there definitely was inspiration and beauty of line, shape, colour and form, all the plantings started to blur into the fore mentioned terminal sameness echoing that of the architectural style.

I looked at a lot of spikey plants and meticulously manicured rocks and well mulched garden beds.

I don't regret my $15 and 300 mile round trip investment of a day spent checking off the Done The Garden Tour box. I left with a glimpse of how this gardening thing can be done, albeit at a couple of thousand feet higher altitude, and two US hardiness growing zones colder, than where I currently tend the earth. The exhibition gardens all spoke of the presence of serious money to exchange for plants, landscaping materials, professional horticultural design and labour. Way more money than I will ever have.

Money, however, is only one measure of value. I left with a treasure of a publication from the NM Office of the State Engineer, which, while slim, is worth the whole ticket price.

Not least for the pages of lovely tables of suitable arid adapted plants. With botanical names and pictures!

After treating myself to lunch of samosas and chai in Santa Fe I kinda fumbled the return journey.

In attempting to follow the old turquoise trail south, parallel to Interstate 25, I was wearied by another terminal sameness: the commercial takeover by recreational cannabis sellers who now occupy all the old houses in villages which, last time I did this route, pre legalization, were tantalizing bakeries, coffee shops and art galleries bursting with creativity and invitation. Another devil's bargain.

Then my directional challenges kicked in. I got horribly lost and turned around trying to navigate an exit from the urban sprawl of southern Albuquerque.

It was a long day and while I am still stardust, I had seen a lot of the devil's bargain, no bomber jet planes had turned to butterflies in the sky, and I am not sure that I've found my way back to the garden. Yet.


An anniversary of sorts. 21 years since that visa application received the "Approved" stamp in an embassy building surrounded by flowers and candles - the spontaneous gestures of humans briefly shocked by horror into a (regrettably very temporary) openheartedness.


Woodstock


Well, I came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him, "Tell me, where are you going?"

And this he told me

Said, "I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm

Gonna join in a rock 'n' roll band

Got to get back to the land

Set my soul free"


We are stardust, we are golden

We are billion-year-old carbon

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden


Well, then can I walk beside you?

I have come to lose the smog

And I feel myself a cog

In somethin' turning

And maybe it's the time of year

Yes, and maybe it's the time of man

And I don't know who I am

But life is for learning


We are stardust, we are golden

We are billion-year-old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

Back to the garden


We are stardust, we are golden

We are billion-year-old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

Back to the garden


By the time we got to Woodstock

We were half a million strong

And everywhere was a song

And a celebration

And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes

Riding shotgun in the sky

Turning into butterflies

Above our nation


We are stardust, we are golden

We are caught in the devil's bargain

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden


lyrics written by Joni Mitchell, copyright Crazy Crow Music

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