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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010



The Guest Who Came to Garden

How Edju's garden grew.



"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

       — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)


In the past month, one local garden has aroused both intrigue and comment from almost all who see it — from curious police officers and meter readers, to dog walkers and children hoping to glimpse a frog or turtle: The Garden of Edju.

I first noticed Edju Czarkowski from a distance long before I met him. Young, striking and remote, he sat slouched on the metal settee in front of the Silver City Food Co-op. His gaze was so intense that the oranges in his lap seemed conjured by sorcery.

sw gardener

"Pok" (far left corner), a symbol of enlightenment, serves as one example of garden art made by Edju Czarkowski for this unique garden in Silver City's

historic district. (Photos by Max Carmichael)

I suspected that he might have spent time in India or someplace else where the mode of dress includes sarongs, head scarves and dreadlocks. That's his look. Once I saw him towing a handcart as if it were a tamed Bengal tiger. The image, both exotic and amusing, formed an indelible impression. From then on, I thought of him as "Siddhartha."

Early one humid morning while walking my dog, I spied Edju, shovel in hand, digging up the wide gravel driveway in front of a neighbor's garden-deprived house. He was brown as a raisin, absorbed in work, and did not make eye contact. The driveway extended between the sidewalk and the street edge, at the facade of a nondescript, vaguely modern small house.

Within weeks, the driveway underwent a wondrous transformation: Corn stalks appeared, stones and earth were fashioned into odd geometric shapes, lush knolls of wheat grass undulated through the evolving landscape. Watermelon halves mounded with dirt — "little compost packages" — dotted the reclamation-in-process.

This Siddhartha guy was a fellow gardener with a super knack. It was time for me to act.

sw gardener
Although the Fritz Garden abuts the street edge, its composition is strong enough to make passersby stop and marvel at its intricate details.

I rushed home to dig up a clump of sedums as an offering. Edju seemed delighted with the gift. I introduced myself. He replied, mumbling his name that I understood as "Eggoo."

My new acquaintance explained that the garden was "evolving." Apparently he had grown a "corn garden" in Oaxaca, Mexico, but had no plan in mind for this current effort except to improve its aesthetic energy. His plantings would include corn (purchased as dry kernels in a cloth bag at the Food Basket), wheat grass, beans and squash.

Occasionally I would spot Edju walking humpbacked on Hwy. 180 clutching branches on his back. The image was incongruous. It really belonged in a Chinese folk painting.

Back at the garden, more shoveling ensued as Edju created an ingenious waterworks scheme using a serpentine channel for irrigation. A garden hose, disguised within a gnarly wood block, enabled the channel to flow at a rate regulated at the waterspout.

Soon, the design's coup de grace materialized: a handmade bridge formed from a recycled bamboo window shade. Edju set the span at a slight angle so passersby could observe the channel from the street. A hummingbird feeder that "reads" as a lantern was hung atop a bridge pole. Those tree limbs that I had first seen on Edju's shoulders had become trellises supporting squash and beans growing on the garden's perimeter.

 

Indeed, the Garden of Edju had evolved into a cohesive composition displaying key components of fine landscape design: repetition, rhythm, unity and character. But essentially, it's simply a pleasure to behold.

My neighbor Scott Fritz, an assistant history professor at WNMU, first saw his guest's accomplishment after returning from summer vacation.

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A water channel beneath the bridge provides both visual rhythm and irrigation to the garden's major plantings: corn, wheat grass, squash and beans.

"I thought it was very Third World," Scott said. "Edj reminds me of a 'Dharma Bum,' with his Kerouacian interests in Buddhism, natural philosophy and travel.

"Aldo Leopold's book, A Sand County Almanac, made a big impression on him," Scott continued. "Where Leopold had brought a neglected farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin, back to life, Edju has brought ecological health to a former Silver City driveway."

I knew that Scott really liked the garden as I watched him chew a mouthful of wheat grass. With much gusto, he spat out the indigestible bits and pointed proudly to his emerald-green spittle. "See it?" he asked. "All that healthy green chlorophyll!"



When the corn had grown cornea-high, Edju took off for Mexico to visit his girlfriend. Now the garden seems a bit forsaken, and Scott thinks that after the corn is harvested he'll use the stalks to build a fence.

As for myself, I look forward to one of Edju's intermittent returns to Silver City. I actually never told him how much the garden reminds me of a set from the musical South Pacific. Pretending that the cornstalks are palm trees isn't much of a stretch — nor how I imagine American sailors cavorting on the sidewalk singing, "Bloody Mary Is the Girl I Love."

I bet you a corn kernel that Edju won't know what I am talking about.



Vivian Savitt gardens at Ditch Cottage in Silver City.







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