First Person: Summertime Brings Awaited Moments of Garden Repose

By Shirley Barker Special to the Planet
Tuesday July 04, 2006

Last summer, shortly after reviewing the wonderful water-saving gardening book published by EBMUD, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates, I felt a complete hypocrite dragging my garden hose from shrub to shrub, so much so that I decided then and there to stop watering everything except the vegetable plot and the raspberries. 

If this shock treatment resulted in casualties, I would replace them with plants adapted to drought. 

I did not expect the roses and fuchsias to survive, or the violets. Surely the primrose path that leads to the gas meter would never again delight the eye in early spring. In particular, of all the numerous kinds of primula, would not P. vulgaris, native to Atlantic isles of mists and showers, languish? 

To my astonishment, practically everything not only survived, but seemed to do better than usual, helped perhaps by our extended rainy season. The roses blasted forth in May, by the size of their blossoms the apple and pear had evidently not missed a beat, the fuchsias hung in through last year’s customary dry hot fall and turned into a picture. Admittedly, the water table in my garden is high. Given more than our usual rainfall, the so-called meadow turns into a lake. The only losses I could find were two azaleas transplanted from pots, and they had not done well from the start. 

Such freedom from watering is a keen joy, but how to taste it to the full? Since my favorite activity, doing nothing, is conducted supine, preferably in warm dappled shade with a non-challenging mystery in hand, a review of my reclining options seemed in order. 

Outside my scrap-wood teahouse is an old wooden reclining chair with wheels and metal slats. This is fairly comfortable with the appropriate cushions, which have to be brought in every evening to keep them dry. One of my cats is attached to these cushions, some would say proprietorially so. 

Hauling this chair to catch the sun is tedious, especially as one wheel is missing so that the seat must be propped on a concrete block. An alternative is an equally cumbersome, solid-wood reclining chair under a tree that now provides dense rather than dappled shade. Finally, my metal and plastic beach-type lounger, so easy to fold up and carry about, has deteriorated to the point that it requires a heavy board across it to prevent anyone intent on lounging from falling through. 

Having completed this dismal survey, I thought wistfully of hammocks. A tropical image of hammock slung between date palms popped into my mind. As I looked round the garden for a possible location for one, the distance between a rickety gatepost and a sturdy plum branch seemed about right, including the sun/shade orientation. I telephoned various local sporting goods stores. The kind I wanted, made of strong cord, easy to put up, and with spreader bars at each end, seemed either unavailable or beyond my wallet. 

At that point I put the idea out of my mind since houseguests were due to arrive for a lengthy visit, the weather had turned cold, and no one would want to sit outside, let alone lie down on or above wet grass. 

I had forgotten one characteristic of my guests, the avidity with which they shop. I can assure every shopowner in Berkeley that their inventory has had an extreme going-over in the past month. This forced me to fall into browsing mode too, and while we were in REI, I noticed in the camping section an elegant, simple-looking roll of white netting with shocking-pink nylon lines at each end. The label said this was a Camper’s Compact Hammock, and furthermore, it was EZ. The price was extraordinarily reasonable, and before I could give it serious thought, like  

the best houseguests the world over, mine had purchased it and presented  

it to me. 

Less graciously, I rushed us all home. Fastening the hammock to gate post and plum branch with a round turn and two half-hitches took seconds. Accompanied by a book, I cautiously lowered myself into the hammock. It was like floating on air. The hammock’s gentle rocking motion lulled me into a meditative state never achieved in yoga class. I felt I had endless time to gaze at nature’s hose-less work. The book simply fell from my fingers. 

This instant tension-reducer can stay outside all summer. I might install one indoors, too, for the unexpected guest.