Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:44 PM

Q: What do you do with a pint of leftover mincemeat, a cup of leftover cranberry chutney, and three cups of leftover applesauce--all homemade and delicious, but all listlessly hanging around the back of the fridge like wallflowers at a hoe-down?

A: Invent Cranberry-Apple Mincemeat Pie, of course. Don't forget the Pie Crust Scrap Cookies; you know how the kids love those. The filling tasted great; we'll see what the ladies at the Relief Society's Pot Luck and Pow-Wow think.

Q: What do you do when autodidacticism fails you?

A: Swallow your pride and hire a consultant.

Let me explain the second Q&A.

My grandmother was an amazing automath. When she wanted to learn how to do something new, she would simply check books out of the library and teach herself by reading and doing. She made her own saddles. She designed and built her own deck and greenhouse. She learned how to decorate wedding cakes, then had a very successful side business for years as she honed that skill to high art.

Though she took enormous satisfaction in these accomplishments, she never succumbed to vanity. If we ever complimented her excellent cooking or baking, for example, she would scoff good-naturedly, saying, "If you can read, you can cook."

Watching her, I learned that if you wanted to do something, you gathered the necessary information, then plunged in and just did it. Grandma's process has worked well for me over the course of my life. I've sewn, I've sown; I've made cheese and rendered lard. But recently, I hit a brick wall.

A couple of years ago, I read a great book about permaculture and got very excited about employing its principles on our little third of an acre. Sometimes called 'forest gardening,' permaculture is an agricultural system that seeks to work with nature, not against it, in the production of food crops. The permaculturist mimics nature's systems as closely as possible, hoping for maximum output (food) with minimum input (work). It's a method that attempts to recreate Eden here in the Lone and Dreary World. Here's a quote from Toby Hemenway:

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define in a sound-bite. Here's one way to describe it: If you think of natural building, sustainable agriculture, solar energy, graywater recycling, consensus process, and the like as tools, then permaculture is the toolbox that helps organize those tools and suggests how and when to use them.

I've made various plans for our land since we moved here almost six years ago, amending them as I have worked in the yard and as I have read more books on garden philosophy and design. Hemenway's book pulled all of my dreams into one overarching concept, so I got to work trying to make a new plan incorporating new ideas such as the use of plant guilds, a mandala design to increase the edge factor, and the unique characteristics of our little microclimate.

I got stuck. It was too big; I couldn't get my mind around it all. Figuring I just needed more data, I bought a couple of very technical permaculture textbooks and studied them. I got stuck again; I just could not pull everything together. Then we renovated the house last year, and I had to abandon any thoughts of work on the yard.

Last fall, while reading a magazine that focuses on green building, I came across an ad for the services of Ethan Zickler, a permaculture landscape designer who lives not too far from us. Perfect, I thought. In a flash, I humbly recognized that I needed to bring in reinforcements if I wanted the permaculture thing to happen.

Last September, Ethan came out and consulted with me. He spent an hour listening to my desires and ideas, then walked around our property for a long time making sketches. Realizing that we couldn't do much over the winter, we agreed to touch base again in the early spring.

The other day I met with him so that he could show me what he had come up with for our yard. I about fell over when I saw it. Ethan is both experienced and gifted. One one large, well-drawn map, I saw all the concepts I'd tried to conquer seamlessly integrated into a Master Plan.

I like to be self-sufficient; it's hard for me to accept help from other humans. But I am grateful for the lesson learned: drawing upon the gifts of others can enhance and expand your own. Our property is now bountiful and pleasing to the eye on paper. I can't wait to run with Ethan's plan and make it a reality.
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On 16/3/07 , Jenna said...

Luisa, I LOVED this blog entry. So well crafted. I've wanted to read Gaia's Garden for a long time. Maybe someday I'll get to that...

and mincemeat is gross.

On 16/3/07 , rjlight said...

Okay, I have no idea what mincemeat is -- I'm an idiot -- it's not really meat, right?-- isn't it nuts--not as in crazy--as in those things that grow on trees.
Hey, you might want to check out this blog -- I really want to do the herb spiral thing.
I sound like spam, don't I?

On 17/3/07 , Christie said...

I'm in the process of meeting with landscapers right now...our house was built on a newly cleared lot about a year ago, and the first round of grass and real plants was choked out by weeds and overpowered by the pine trees dropping needles constantly. We're having someone come in to re-seed and move a couple of things (such as the beautiful flowering tree the contracter planted right beside of the house - so close that in a year or so, it'll be trying to grow into the house) I can relate to your excitement! I don't know much about planting things, but I sure am ready to some point this spring, my mom is supposed to come 'supervise' as I try to plant flowers around the house. Yay, spring!

On 17/3/07 , Julie Q. said...

What a lovely, eclectic blog you have. I enjoyed this post especially. I try to rely on my own knowledge of things and do my own research, but sometimes, it pays to go to an expert. I taught myself how to quilt and I made a quilt or two. Then I took a class and was amazed by the many shortcuts and tricks I learned.

Good luck with the gardening. It sounds like a worthy undertaking.