The story of the Panache Garden and assorted odd bits of personal history….

Listen while you read to “Arakicho Street” from the “blue side” of the dual album “10 Strings” by the Panache Orchestra. This piece was inspired by the neighborhood Chi and I lived in — the old geisha district of Tokyo — a couple years before we moved to California.

December 28, 2012

Here and there, I’ve hinted about a dirty little secret.  Well, I have a few of them, some more sordid than others, but the one I’m talking about now is the Panache Garden.  “Hey, that’s not a secret!”  “You’re right, it’s just dirty.” And little. And time consuming, and downright maddening sometimes.  People must be thinking, “why in the hell would you take on something that big and complicated and expensive when you’re always kvetching about not having any time or money, and everything being too complicated and problematic?”  Good question!

Well, here is one major reason why I decided to “occupy” my yard with a potager garden: http://www.nationofchange.org/300000-organic-farmers-sue-monsanto-federal-court-decision-march-31st-go-trial-1329059467

And here’s another: http://www.lagardenblog.com/2011/04/creative-container-gardening-nourishes.html

So…I’ll finally start to tell the epic tale of one of the biggest, most time-consuming, frustrating boondoggles in my personal history!

It began with being raised on vegetables fresh from my father’s garden and experiencing the very serious disgust of mealy, tasteless tomatoes with bullet-proof skins and stringy, rubbery asparagus procured at great cost and effort from the supermarket a mile walk from the decrepit 2-bedroom apartment I shared with two guys and their oft-staying girlfriends my first year of college.  Later on, sometime after I graduated university I briefly dated someone who taught me how to cook, so from that point onward I wanted fresh herbs.  And tomatoes.  And a lot of other things.  But I had to start somewhere.

SO…just before I moved to Tokyo in 1997, I tried growing a tomato plant in a pot on the front terrace of the place I lived in:  the downstairs level of a house overlooking the ocean in Encinitas, CA (for an impecunious musician, I have lived in some rather nice places!).  What I ended up with were a few little reddish pea-like things since I apparently didn’t water it enough, and then the tomato worms appeared from out of nowhere and mowed the whole thing down.  Epic Fail.

My next gardening adventure involved growing a few herbs in a strawberry pot and a bunch of houseplants on the windowsill of my flat in Tokyo that was about the size of the bathroom in an average American house.  (Yes, I really did live for five years under such impossibly cramped conditions, and people wonder why I seem a bit unhinged.)  The house plants did pretty well, but the herb thing amounted to little more than a dirty, buggy mess.

My aspirations to finally have my very own home-grown herbs were finally realized at the place Chi and I moved into together on Arakicho Street (old Tokyo geisha district) a couple years before we moved to California, where the flat we lived in, crappy as it was, had an especially large balcony (by Tokyo standards – see paragraph above about my first place) that allowed me to grow a spectacular container garden that received compliments from the neighbours while saving me the trouble of having bunches of astronomically-priced herbs from the supermarket from which I only needed a tiny bit at a time occupying extremely precious real estate in the fridge while going rotten.

The container garden expanded further in late 2004 (well, after restarting it from scratch) when we moved into a loft in a new development called East Village (formerly known as “crack alley”) in the nether regions of downtown San Diego, which even during the high tourist season felt like a ghost town after the huge, frenetic, neon-buzzing hustle and bustle of metro Tokyo, and I started growing a few vegetables, none of which did very well.  I believe the most successful thing in that garden was the round pot of cat grass and cat-safe herbs I grew for Gureyo so she could have her own little garden that she could munch on and play with and roll around in without getting sick or yelled at.

Note that I would post pictures if it didn’t involve having to disinter several boxes from under the house to find them and then figure out how to operate the scanner on my antediluvian all-in-one printer, assuming that feature still even works since I haven’t tried to scan (or fax) anything since ca. 2008.

Anyway, by the end of 2005 we had blown through all the money we had brought from Tokyo, and I finally succeeded in getting laid off from the shittiest day job ever (apparently the owner of that deeply troubled company had a rare attack of sound business sense and realized that it was not cost-effective to keep me around for the sole purpose of tormenting me with his offensive behaviour and right wing breeder-trash politics since he steadfastly refused to use me in any capacity in which I excelled, or any at all much of the time!), so in early 2006 we fled as economic refugees to Los Angeles where we crammed ourselves and all of our instruments and gear and cats into a 2nd storey 1-bedroom apartment in a 4-plex in S. Central L.A. (well, it was more “central” than south, but anything south of the 10 constitutes *south*)

According to the landlord, the master plan was that each tenant would get a quadrant of the yard for their own use.  That never actually materialized, so my gardening efforts had to be deferred until we moved into a downstairs unit about 18 months later that gave me some access to outdoor space.  What I ended up doing was procuring three ½ whiskey barrels to make a container garden, and then proceeded to put the “intensive” in “bio-intensive”.

I think that production cost a couple hundred $$, and have a feeling I may have made it cost even more than that.  Anyway, one fine day in mid-spring 2008 when Chi had gone back to Tokyo for several weeks to be with his father who was at the end stage of terminal cancer, I set out in our Toyota Tacoma on an extensive mission to Anawalt’s,  Marina del Rey Nursery and San Gabriel Nursery (yes, those places are quite widely dispersed!) to procure containers, organic potting mix and fertilizer, various other odds and ends, and a metric shitload of plants.  I also had some seeds to start, so I needed some sort of containment structure to start them in, and we’d also picked up a porcelain sink for 5 bucks from our landlord earlier that I intended to fashion into another container for this enterprise.

I had a long list of stuff I wanted to plant in an acutely finite amount of space, but I’ve never let constraints like that stop me.  I unloaded all the stuff, spent the balance of that afternoon getting some seeds started, and looked forward to the next day when I would put it all together.

materials

materials

Gureyo & Jaco inspecting the loot

Gureyo & Jaco inspecting the loot

Some string beans I had started earlier

Some string beans I had started earlier

Positioning and filling the barrels

Positioning and filling the barrels

Assorted herbs and some tomato starts.  I placed a trellis between the two barrels for the tomatoes to climb

Assorted herbs and some tomato starts. I placed a trellis between the two barrels for the tomatoes to climb

Baby corn, eggplants, serrano chiles, more herbs and some marigolds and nasturtiums

Baby corn, eggplants, serrano chiles, more herbs and some marigolds and nasturtiums

Still more herbs, marigolds and nasturtiums

Still more herbs, marigolds and nasturtiums

The eggplant garden with a Japanese bell pepper plant in a porcelain sink

The eggplant garden with a Japanese bell pepper plant I had started from seeds I brought back from Tokyo and set in a porcelain sink

Well, some things (somewhat surprisingly) did spectacularly well (like the eggplants and peppers in the porcelain sink), other so-so, and still others, not so much or at all.

Chi insisted that we move out of south-central L.A. after the economy blew chunks in 2008 fearing that the entire region was imminently going to erupt into violence due to increasing desperation (which it tends to periodically), so that garden got only one growing season and had pretty much petered out except for the perennial herbs by the time we moved to Chinatown at the very end of that year.

– To Be Continued –

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