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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    August 2008


A Fishy and Totemed Garden

Plus tomato mania and new vendors at the Farmer's Market.

In my experience, seemingly alchemical feats may occur when earth, water, light and plants are transmuted by creativity into one of life's most wonderful elixirs, the garden.

At 18 inches tall, a fish created by potter Martin Apley seems to have jumped from an ocean spindrift into his colorful garden.
(Photo by Martin Apley)

Placing ornament into the mix adds a dimension that can be as potent as chocolate, powerful as the psyche. This has occurred throughout garden history and can happen in our own backyards.

If your ancestry precluded inheriting a carved, stone obelisk, or a marble bust of Great-Great-Aunt Florence to be set center-point among your rose bushes, fret not. In case your hardscape budget has fallen upon hard times, disallowing even a gnome figurine for the fence post, please — no tears.

In our sterling town and farther afield live accomplished gardeners who possess the "ingenious gene." It assures flair in doing many things, including the making, finding and placing of ornamental objects in the landscape.

Beginning this month, my column will spotlight who they are and how they achieve remarkable visual impact using anything from thrift-store finds to individual art creations to set their gardens apart from the ordinary.

A visit to potter Martin Apley's garden is a case in point. The retired biology professor resides in an upstanding historic neighborhood in a proper brick house concealed by an adobe wall.

"I see a big connection between playing in clay and growing a garden," Martin says. "It's part of the same process. I like to pile up dirt and I like clay because it's so organic."

Martin moved to Silver City from Colorado, seeking a longer growing season and a more manageable garden than his three-and-a-half-acre domain in Gunnison. The game plan also stipulated proximity to a small college, similar to his former stomping grounds at Western State College.

When Martin saw the initial on "W" Mountain here, it was a prophetic moment: The same mark of school pride exists on a hill in Gunnison.

"Before I retired," Martin says, "I started taking ceramic courses on campus." Prior to that, an attraction to Inuit art, based on its "naturalness, simplicity and uncomplicated backgrounds," led him to begin collecting it in the mid-1970s. Inuits are the indigenous people of Northern Canada and parts of Alaska and Greenland, but their work is often incorrectly called "Eskimo" art. Martin explains that traditional Inuit art is "mythologically rich and very focused on animals, including musk ox, fish, birds and seals." Pointing to a favorite lithograph of "Sedna," Martin says that this Inuit goddess of the sea is sometime portrayed as part animal. He finds the animal-human evolutionary connection very appealing.

Before Martin's belongings had even arrived, he took a workshop with several notable visiting potters led by Claude Smith of WNMU'S fine arts department.

"I had no idea that retirement would lead in this direction," Martin says.

In the same way, what is revealed behind Martin's adobe walled garden also offers the thrill of the unexpected. One observes not only the effusive garden making of an admitted plant addict, but also the joyful creations of a trained potter.

Martin's startling fish residents appear to have forayed from the sparkling flotsam and jetsam of the marine realm onto a terrain of glistening plant pigment. And the destination appears to their liking.

Continuing along the garden's curved pathway edged with bright summer blooms, you reach its terminus — designated by a "totem" framed and shaded by an apricot tree. The totem or "yard stand," as Martin also calls his piece, is the result of a visit to Vancouver last spring, where he viewed traditional Northwestern Indian totems at the University of British Columbia Museum. The experience also stimulated his love of "weird" objects.

"I don't draw or makes sketches first," he says. "I just start something and it happens."

The happenings continue as Martin Apley's newest works, marine tube worms and sea anemones, await the kiln. Thereafter, you can view them at Karen Muench's Copper Quail Gallery, 211-A N. Texas St.

You might consider showing up with a flowering plant.

Seeing Red

A summer bounty of squash, melons, peppers and beans graces many vendor booths at the Silver City Farmer's Market this month, but the commotion will be focused on tomatoes when Tomato Mania begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 16. Certainly the shady, downtown setting is a cozy and sensible fit for vendors and buyers alike. It's also a fine venue for an event that will feature music (Bayou Seco) and contests (Best Tasting Tomato, Largest and Most Unusual).

If you haven't already done so, this will be a fitting occasion to meet some of the market's new vendors, including: The Sprout Wizard, Eric Ohlrich; plants woman Anna Mayers; and former Silver Heights Nursery owner Regina Vinson. Although Regina was the Farmer's Market on-site manager last year, this year she is a full-fledged vendor with a booth a-green with homegrown (of course!) herbs and perennials.

When I challenged Eric Ohlrich to provide sprouts as fabulously piquant as the onion sprouts I once bought at a farmer's market in Montecito, Calif., he zipped out a sample of broccoli sprouts that also zipped my taste buds. Fabulous!

Anna Mayers propagates several different species of succulents, including the hard-to-find kalanchoe thrysiflora (often called "paddle plant") and the silver-ruffled cotyledon undulata. Her geranium collection includes variegated and tricolor varieties, as well nutmeg, lemon and strawberry-scented ones.

A botanist by training, Anna reports that she designed her own passive-solar greenhouse that "uses no fossil fuels whatsoever." She also harvests rainwater on site in two 3,000-gallon tanks.

After smelling geraniums, you can head over to the market's new concession stand for coffee, fruit smoothies and even pancakes with sausage. Manned by a smiling squadron of Lions Club volunteers, the al fresco setting also features seating by the Big Ditch.

According to Lions Club president John Chess, all proceeds from concession sales benefit the club's eye van and other community projects. For information on Lions eye and ear programs, contact him at 574-8756.

The Farmer's Market's highly energetic team of Martha K. Everett, on-site manager, and Margaret Hopper, administrator, continue to welcome applications from prospective vendors. Martha reports that more "backyard gardeners" are interested in being vendors these days. She adds that "finding more egg vendors, goat cheese and goat soap makers would add a great mix to current market items. Fees for vendor participation are modest."

Margaret Hopper emphasizes that prospective vendors may consider the option of sharing booth space as well. Margaret, who serves as the market grants writer, confirms the receipt of state monies and awaits word on a proposal to receive a US Department of Agriculture grant. She also urges market shoppers to "pass back their plant pots to vendors."

Southwest Gardener columnist Vivian Savitt gardens at
Ditch Cottage in Silver City.

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