By Jim McCloskey
Although fall in southern California is my favorite time of year for its raw beauty, spring is a close runner-up because it is so busy.
In fact, some of the heavy lifting is already done by the time March 20 rolls around: Early in that month, for instance, I’ll typically take advantage of a warm day to vacuum away our pool’s winter accumulation of debris, brush the walls and floor and split and clean the diatomaceous-earth filter.
Once that’s taken care of and the water’s looking brilliant again, I take a sample to my neighborhood pool shop for testing that’s more thorough than what I can accomplish with my own meager kit. Invariably, this means heading back home loaded down with water conditioner, non-chlorine shock, a bag or two of salt and a good supply of phosphate controller. I also check out the flexibility of the automatic cleaner’s hoses, the buoyancy of its floats and the condition of its pump.
Starting this year, I’ve added the task of opening up and cleaning out a small ornamental fountain’s buried basin to my routines. I was surprised by how little there was to do this first time: Even with the torrents of rain we’ve had in recent months, the burden of yuck in the basin was minor, almost negligible.
Nearby are three large raised-bed garden boxes that require our attention, one still filled with winter crops and our perennial artichokes, the other two awaiting their fill of mostly tomato plants and basil. I don’t have much to do here beyond amending and turning the soil; Judy is the gardener, and I pretty much do as I’m told. In fact, my main responsibility here goes not much further than making certain all of the plants are covered by the drip-irrigation system.
We also have a bunch of fruit trees: lemon, lime, tangerine, orange and kumquat trees (some in multiples) that are closing out last year’s production and blossoming with next fall’s crop. Then there are the stone fruits (apricot, aprium, plum, peach) and two varieties of guava, a persimmon tree and a pair of pomegranate trees along with a big passionfruit vine. We have berries, too, including a tangle of blackberries and a wonderful Persian mulberry that produces fuzzy, impossibly delicious fruits about the size of an adult finger.
Not all of our plants are edible (although I failed to mention the herb garden, which could be bigger). Through the years, Judy has planted lots of groundcovers, ornamental shrubs, palms, vines and trees, including a Brugmansia that’s done spectacularly well. There's also a whole registry of roses, including a Barbra Streisand she just picked up last week.
Other than the pool, none of this was here when we moved in 28 years ago: no fruit trees of any kind, no berries, no vegetables and maybe a few roses. For whatever reason and despite the fact that the area in which our house was built was at one time a grand tree farm, previous owners reaching back to the home’s origins in 1961 had never planted anything other than some bottlebrushes, a couple of cedars, lots of oleander and a magnolia placed awkwardly to one side of the backyard. Our personal favorite, dominating the center of the yard, was a long-suffering juniper that had been torturously pruned year after year to make it look like a tree – and not to great effect, so it is no longer there.
It’s taken us all this time to clear away the old and put Judy’s fresh stamp on our surroundings. The one thing the plants we found when we moved in had in common was that they were essentially maintenance-free (except for the malformed juniper); the one thing about everything we’ve planted since is that it all requires loving year-round care – fertilizing, watering, pruning, cultivating, harvesting, canning, drying. We wouldn’t trade these chores for anything, even though it can get a bit overwhelming as Spring gets started.
You may think it’s odd of me to include pool maintenance as the kickoff point for our springtime garden chores, but as I see it, there’s a wonderful, karmic balance in it: This is the home Judy and I have shared for 28 of our nearly 35 years together, it’s where our kids grew up, and it’s where we’ve put down roots to a point where it’s hard to think of being anywhere else. But it’s also the place where I’ve worked on WaterShapes since it was first envisioned in my spa on a fateful day in the spring of 1998.
After three decades of careful attention to our surroundings, two decades of thinking about water in built environments and moving into another wonderful spring of 2017, we’ve reached a point, Judy and I, where this is all such a matter of routine that we’re relaxing a bit and are spending more time being deliberate about enjoying both our common labors and our shared harvests.
Yep, it’s a great time of year – and not a bad time of life, either.