“Gardening in Difficult Places” by the Absurd Naturalist

Gardening is always a challenge. Even in the mildest climates, with abundant rain, keeping our plants alive and looking good is no small achievement. But there are places in this world with such extreme limiting factors as to sorely test even the most determined gardener.

Consider Antarctica, for example. You wouldn’t think water would be a limiting factor there, when the continent contains 70% of the world’s fresh water. Only problem, it’s frozen. There’s not a lot of soil, either. 99.68% of the land area is covered by an ice sheet. The mean summer temperature, by the way, is -30 degrees C.—a considerable stretch for even the cold hardiest garden plants.

Gardening on a live volcano also poses challenges. While volcanic soils can be quite fertile, gardeners should be advised to wait at least until the lava cools off and hardens a bit. Although a common roadside plant called noni is one of the first plants to colonize cracks in lava flows around Mount Kilauea in Hawaii, so far as we know no species of plant can tolerate molten rock. It’s also really tough on gardening shoes.

Sometimes the challenge lies in a place not commonly thought of as a potential garden. Sitting on a jetliner as it taxied down the runway one day, I got to thinking about the depressingly boring landscape of its wings and why no one ever tries to plant anything there. Do other passengers feel the same way, I wonder? While I can understand some of the gardening problems posed by traveling at 600 MPH at an elevation of 30,000 feet, that is no excuse. Think of how much more pleasant our air travel might be if we had nice hedges and beds of colorful flowers to look at against the backdrop of clouds. All plants would have to be kept severely pruned back, of course, in the name of both visibility and aerodynamic efficiency, but every garden has its compromises.

And think of how much more pleasant our daily commute might be, if we allowed ourselves the time and space for a little garden inside our cars. It wouldn’t have to be grandiose in scale. Perhaps a neat little rock garden of low growing plants on the dash, and maybe some beds of day lilies or irises in the back seat. Particular emphasis should be given to plants requiring a minimum of deadheading, pruning and other maintenance, as these can get a bit tricky in heavy traffic.

Even our bodies present abundant opportunities. Just think of all the unused spaces and orifices in the average body. For instance, instead of bemoaning a lack of hair on one’s head, consider the possibility of trying out new kinds of vegetation there. With a little site preparation and adequate irrigation, the hair challenged gardener could grow a nice head of fescue or bluegrass—a far superior alternative to most toupees. For a more exotic, full-headed look, one could try pothos or Algerian ivy. Speaking of ivy, it would be a far more welcome sight across the dinner table than the ugly growth of chest hair curling out from under your open shirt. And think of all the little pockets of opportunity in our clothes. I can imagine a time in the not too distant future when no well dressed man or woman would dare venture out into open society without some strategically placed little flowers and ferns growing from every pocket, hem, and trouser cuff.

Perhaps someday we’ll even have gardens in outer space. We could start with the International Space Station. Sure, they’ve got a few experimental plants up there, but how about a nice rose garden or veggie patch for those astronauts? They’ll have to make the station a whole lot bigger, and haul up tons of soil, water, and fertilizer, especially if they want trees and turf. And they’ll need more gravity, too. For some reason plants are fussy about growing under weightless conditions.

Who knows, maybe we can even get some gardens going on Mars. True, it makes Antarctica look like a resort. The average temperature at mid-latitudes is a chilly -50 degrees C. The thin atmosphere is composed mostly of carbon dioxide. And what little water there is remains frozen beneath the ground or at the poles. So we’d have to find ways to heat things up to melt the ice, and get some oxygen into the atmosphere. But I’ll bet the soil’s good. Maybe we could send some gardening robots there to prep things first. If we can put a man on the moon, we can plant some petunias on Mars.
                                                    ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses July 2014  http://www.5ensesmag.com/gardening-in-difficult-places/

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