Rock Fountain

We have a small flagstone terrace at the entrance to our old house in eastern France. It’s modest, and when we moved here, it was just flagstones surrounded by the gravel of the driveway. There was one additional element to it: An old millstone next to the front door.

The millstone is basically a big stone cylinder with a hole in the center, as if a giant pressed his thumb into the middle.

For years, I put potted flowers into the hole, but without drainage, any heavy rain left the soil waterlogged. Nothing lasted longer than a few weeks.

Because I am a slow learner and not decoratively inclined, it took me quite a while to come up with the idea of installing a recirculating water fountain. I took stones from a 19th century wall that had once bordered our garden, and put in a little solar-powered spout.

Even that took me a long time to figure out: If the water spouted up through the small head, it dispersed and the fountain dried out within a couple of hours. If I placed stones so that the water ran gently on the surface of the rocks rather than spritzed skywards, the little holes became clogged with the dirty water (there’s a lot of airborne dust that ends up in the fountain).

So this year, I had the bright idea of removing the fountain head and just letting the water burble up from the main spout and I think I may have finally hit the right combination. No clogging, the water spreads evenly over the rocks.

One of my great and unexpected pleasures in this whole process has been the number of small animals and insects that drink at the fountain. Lizards hop down from the neighboring wall to sunbathe and have an occasional sip, birds nip down for a drink, and the water fountain has become a gossip point for pollinators. Bees, wasps, butterflies – all take their turn.

I planted a couple of large lavender plants, accented by a few smaller flowers in pots, and the miniature garden is alive with butterflies, hummingbird hawk-moths, and bees for most of the summer. In the end, I didn’t expect this tiny terrace installation to become such a magnet for so many different creatures seeking pollen, shade, and water.

It took me a while, but I think I finally got it right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Negating Seasonality

The future, according to Hildebrand's Chocolates in 1900. Roofed cities. Source: PaleoFuture

The future, according to Hildebrand’s Chocolates in 1900.
Roofed cities.
Source: PaleoFuture

When we look into the future, it’s always the same stuff that catches our fancy. Transportation, climate control, surmounting daily inconvenience. The postcards here show a light-hearted vision of life in the year 2000, as illustrated on chocolate boxes circa 1900.

I’ve noticed, however, that older ‘future-visions’ from this era rarely include farming and food supply, maybe because basics of the food infrastructure either didn’t seem like something that needed to change, or it seemed like something unchanging. With the exception of mechanization, farming has been a life constant since human civilization began.

French Victorian postcard. The caption reads: In the year 2000 - the busy farmer. Image: Jean Marc Cote

French Victorian postcard. The caption reads:
In the year 2000 – the busy farmer.
Image: Jean Marc Cote

Our current visions of the future almost always involve the increasingly knotty issue of food production and distribution. Where to grow, how to grow, the shortest distance between growers and consumers. Every conceivable urban space is imagined covered in agriculture, from building walls and roofs to the tops of buses.

A group of entrepreneurial urban farmers have descended into the depths of London’s old WWII bunker system to test out underground farming. Using LED lights and hydroponic growing beds, the new Zero Carbon Food project is intended to create a city farm that is weather-independent, organic and carbon-neutral.

The bunker extends over 2.5 ha (6 acres) and was originally a bomb shelter, a series of tunnels that could hold up to 8000 London residents. For the time being, the farming project is only using a small corner of the bunker, but the group hopes to expand. The temperature can be maintained at 20 C° (68 F°)  for ideal growing, there are no pests (yet), and the water that is usually pumped out of the tunnels could be used to irrigate the farm. The creators say that farming underground negates seasonality, providing an environment that can be constantly controlled.

The underground test farm, lit by LED lights. Source: Zero Carbon Food

The underground test farm, lit by LED lights.
Source: Zero Carbon Food

An interesting notion, putting farms underground. Futuristic scenarios always seem to put the humans either underground, on water or in outer space once Earth’s surface becomes too volatile for our fragile needs. If we can envision farms on space stations, then certainly a London bunker farm seems entirely plausible.

The future, according to Hildebrand's Chocolates in 1900. Vacationing at the North Pole. This one is seeming less far-fetched these days. Source: PaleoFuture

The future, according to Hildebrand’s Chocolates in 1900.
Vacationing at the North Pole. This one is seeming less far-fetched these days.
Source: PaleoFuture

Small Potting

Pothole gardens. Tiny gardens that fill urban potholes. The Pothole Gardener, Steve Wheen, creates tiny gardens in potholes (‘mostly on footpaths’), and takes pictures of them. Others do the same around the world.

Steve Wheen has a book out on his tiny garden installation project.

Steve Wheen has a book out on his tiny garden installation project.

Act locally, think globally. These are almost snowglobe sized gardens – it doesn’t get much more local than a pothole.

A before picture of a pothole in Bogotá, Colombia Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

A before picture of a pothole in Bogotá, Colombia
Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

The gardenered pothole in Bogotá, Colombia Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

The gardenered pothole in Bogotá, Colombia
Photo/Garden: Stéphane Leybold via The Pothole Gardener

Steve Wheen started a public collaboration map for pothole gardens. Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 6.13.59 PM

Seeing as they are probably short-lived, and quite possibly outlasted by their host potholes, uploading an image seems prudent.

If I can find a pothole in Geneva, I might just do some local potting myself.