Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Horses in the Garden

by Laura Crum

How many of you fellow horse bloggers are as into your garden as your horses? I think it must be more than a few, judging by the comments on my post titled "Horse Hermit", back in April. Once again, I thought I was odd, the only horse person who also obsessed on plants. But the more I talk to others, the more I realize that these two passions are often intertwined.

Those of you who have read my mystery series will know that midway through the series, Gail McCarthy, my protagonist, also becomes fairly obsessed with her garden. You can guess why. I wanted to write about my own garden. I tried writing a garden book, and my agent came close to selling it several times and finally gave up. So I started cannibalizing that book, working many passages into my mystery series. And thus, Gail’s passion for gardening was born. In Breakaway, Hayburner, and Forged, particularly, Gail developes a love for old garden roses, creates beautiful draught tolerant plantings that mix with the wild plants, digs an ornamental pond…etc. (My book, Slickrock, set on a horse packing trip in the Sierra Nevada Mts of California was also the result of cannibalizing the many journals I kept while on horse packing trips and living alone in a tent in those mountains. I once meant to make a proper book out of this material, but it ended up being the background for Slickrock—which has remained most readers favorite of my novels.)

I have a new theory that horse people are often gardeners, just as they often have dogs, cats or other critters (chickens and cows in my case, I know Shanster has goats). Most of them will touch a drink. I know I will.

So today I want to write about how my horses intersect with my garden and the pleasure I get out of this. First off, my garden is pretty wild. Both by my choice and by circumstance. I have always admired the concept of a wild garden, where native plants and wildflowers intermingled seamlessly with roses gone rambling through the shrubs. And since I live on a small property bounded on three sides with wild ridges of the California scrub, a tidy, manicured looking place was pretty much not an option.

Then there are the wild animals. An integral part of the concept of a wild garden is that it provides “habitat” for native animals. This sounds great in theory, but they don’t often mention in those lofty toned garden books what living alongside the wild critters really amounts to. As in, deer eat huge amounts of my roses, gophers devour half of what I plant, kingfishers and herons scoop goldfish out of my pond, bobcats and coyotes and hawks and owls and racoons take my chickens, skunks scent my dogs, rats and mice get in my haybarn, and ground squirrels dig holes in my corrals. The list goes on and on. Fortunately, I love seeing the wild animals, and my daily interaction with them is as important a part of my gardening life as my enjoyment of the plants. Which is a good thing. Because a gardener who does not take joy in seeing deer but merely bemoans what they eat is a pretty frustrated gardener in this part of the world.

Now most gardeners don’t think of horses as a part of the garden, but, from the beginning, when I designed this place, I tried to integrate the horse set-up into the overall garden plan. The corrals are bounded by a “green border” of grass and shrubs—my drive runs through this border and up to the house. Thus one is not greeted by the blank dirt of a well used “dry lot” alongside the driveway—as I have seen at so many other horse places.

This green border serves another purpose—since this part of my property is fenced and I have a gate at the bottom of my drive, I can turn the horses out here to graze. Saves mowing, the horses love it, and I am always tickled by the sight of my gentle horses grazing in the green grass and wildflowers. For me it is like the “park” of an old English manor house garden, where the tame elk grazed. There is nothing like the sight of these big livesock animals moving gracefully through the landscape to add drama and interest to a garden scene. Or so I think, anyway.

Those of you you have read my mystery series will know that old garden roses are one of my delights and right now the huge ramblers that cover the arbor that shades my porch are in full cry, a mass of creamy blooms and sweet scent. With my son’s horse in the foreground, munching on the wild oats, the whole scene reminds me of something out of the magical novels I loved as a child.

OK—as I was typing this four young deer walked up the driveway and crossed in front of the window—the little buck with his antlers covered in velvet. I can’t decide which is more lovely—the deer or the roses they stopped to munch on. Good thing the roses are well up on the arbor—the deer can only reach so far. Plenty of roses for us all.

So how about you? Any fellow gardeners out there? How do you integrate your horses into the garden? Or do you keep them quite separate? Cheers--Laura


Shanster said...

This is so weird cuz I was JUST thinking about you and your garden and all the work you put into it to get it going and now you can relax a little about it, tho I know that weeding is a never ending evil...

I've been noticing everything coming up around our place and cringing about the weeds and how I need to get Round up and how I want to put in a drip system (I hear it's fairly easy and inexpensive) so I don't have to spend nights frantically trying to get everything watered.

I worked in a nursery one year and it did seem all my fellow co-workers had animals... maybe the nurturing side of us needs the green along with the fur? grin.

I don't think I incorporate my horses into my gardening... but then again, I'm sort of just starting with our blank, hard pack red clay and bind weed yard and trying to turn it from Deliverance into an Oasis.

Our pastures are in pretty good shape and we re-seed them periodically. Lots of grass, some weeds, but more grass thankfully! We did have a tree service come to remove an old dead brush elm in the pasture and while I know they are basically weeds, we leave the others birds and as shade for the horses... maybe I think of my pastures as "done" and needing maintenance only?

Come to think of it, we get comments from people saying they didn't know we had livestock... our lean-tos are more IN our property... our driveway is next to our front pasture and my little sand arena outlined with RR ties. We have giant gooseberry bushes in a row next to our leanto's but outside of our horse pens which "hide" our back yard along with an apricot tree (no fruit) a plum tree (lots of fruit) and a giant pine...

Our biggest of the 3 pastures we rotate our horses through are behind our house so people from the front rarely see the horses (unless they are being rotated in the front pasture)

And when they are in the front pasture it's really nice to see them all grazing ... I get out of my car and cheerfully tell them hello cuz I like to watch all their ears tune in to me and they raise their heads... just some funny little thing that makes me smile...

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--I know just what you mean. I stop my car and say "hi" too, just to see them all look at me. And my little riding ring is "fenced" with railroad ties, too. The only thing is, about ten years ago, when I decided I was done training horses, I put a vegetable garden in the middle of my riding ring (the only level, sunny ground available). So now I have a round veggie garden with a riding "track" around it. It works for exercising broke horses--that's about it. But its fun to look at the plants while I ride. That is if/when I get around to riding. This spring has been difficult, what with the weather and general busyness. I think I'm gonna whine about that next post. Anybody else having a hard time riding as much as they wish they could right now?