Barbara LucksColumnistSnowmass Village, CO Colorado

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May 1, 2012
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Barbara Lucks: Tips for lazy gardening this summer

SNOWMASS VILLAGE -I've worked damned hard to be a lazy gardener, and after 10 years, I'm kicking back and enjoying it.Veggies are springing out of the ground ready to eat with absolutely no thought, expense or effort on my part. I'm literally tripping over stuff in the back yard that we can eat for dinner tonight.This is only because, in some past year, we put in considerable thought, some expense and some effort. We invested the time and money upfront, and subsequent years just got easier and less costly.Lazy gardening is the ultimate goal of home-scale permaculture. The book that persuaded us that home-scale permaculture is worth the patience and persistence to get lasting results is "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway. This book is the unlikeliest candidate on my personal list of life-changing books.Back in 2000 when Tom and I bought our house in Mack, three words summed up the real estate: What a dump!The former office of the Uintah Railroad (circa 1910) had seen various incarnations as a residence, whorehouse, post office, auto body shop, crack house and other stuff I'd rather not know about. The property had three sterling qualities. The building was constructed like a bunker, the place was cheap, and the mixed zoning and absence of a homeowners association allowed for great creativity.Our new Mack home was a blank canvas of desert-baked soil, a nonfunctioning hot-tub, various junked appliances, noxious weeds and one solitary tree that we could huddle under for shade. Nothing stopped the desert winds, which suck the life out of anything that doesn't just blow into the next county. Numerous trips to the dump and a neighbor with a brush hog took care of the junk and the weeds, but converting our barren homestead into some kind of personal oasis was a more daunting proposition. The fact that we embarked on this adventure in middle age convinced us to design for eventually minimizing the need for supplemental water, replacement of annual plants, weeding, and other back-breaking and budget-breaking outlay.Fortunately, "Gaia's Garden" featured a before-and-after photo story of another desert dump north of Santa Fe with "before" photos that looked just like our place in Mack. I highly suspected lots of computer enhancement of the "after" photos, but our own subsequent success with home-scale permaculture made me a believer.The tricks are planning, patience, persistence, perennials and the humility to rip out stuff that isn't working. Tom and I still refuse to do the accounting on the expensive trees that never budded out for a second year. The takeaway on that experience is that there is a reason you see lots of cottonwood trees in the desert. We learned to ignore the glowing reviews of other lovely varieties recommended for western gardens. We garden in the Hell Zone, which is not covered in the garden guides. We got the real lowdown information from the neighbors and several of Grand Junction's very knowledgeable nurserymen and women, including the resources of the Colorado State University Two Rivers Extension Center.After we built enough fence for a small windbreak, we put in cottonwood trees, which immediately send a huge taproot directly to the water table. The trees that were wimpy little saplings seven years ago now shade the house and yard.Permaculture does not tame nature. Permaculture works with nature, often letting nature do all the work. When the herbs I planted in the spot I wanted withered and died, but their windblown seeds happily took root on the other side of the property where they wanted to be, who was I to argue?Every situation is unique and each permaculture design will be customized. When we were gardening in the Roaring Fork Valley, we took care to clean up the garden every fall before the snow fell so old vegetation would not turn into smothering slime before the snow melted in spring. Now at the edge of the desert, we take care to leave the old stalks to protect the garden from dessicating winds until the new spring shoots are strong enough to take the buffeting. Cleanup is in April rather than October.Readers might already know that one of the most prestigious permaculture sites in the country is Jerome Osentowski's Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt ( This is a great resource for wannabe lazy gardeners in Snowmass.It might take a few years to become a successful lazy gardener, but vegetables that just jump out of the ground every spring are worth it. I wish my investments in my retirement fund would do as well. Of course we still have to plant tomatoes every year. Hey, if I could develop a perennial tomato, it would probably beat my retirement fund.

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The Aspen Times Updated May 1, 2012 06:04PM Published May 1, 2012 06:02PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.