I couldn’t wait to start planting all the things I couldn’t grow in our foggy San Francisco neighborhood – bougainvillea, roses, and most vegetables. I thought the hardest part would be trying to stay patient as I waited for the plants to take off and fill the yard.
Our Sonoma neighbors warned me to “amend the soil” but I assumed the dirt had to be just fine based on the significant overgrowth that we inherited when we bought the house. We had to literally hack things down as a way of controlling the foliage. Adding bags of manure (or any of the suggestions we received – sand, sawdust, bone meal, gypsum, perlite, coffee grounds – it seemed everyone had their own secret recipe) seemed pointless when we already had a “Jack and the Beanstalk” situation on our hands.
Oh, what a silly city girl! My first clue should have been how difficult it was to dig the planting holes. Surely in paradise the shovel just glides through the dirt effortlessly but I was having to dig-and dig – and dig. Sometimes the digging was an all-day process as I would walk away for a few hours until I had the strength to go back to my pathetic hole in the ground and try again.
My shovel would hit what seemed like thousands of rocks and I would dig them out and add them to the growing pile. I had an idea why Sonoma County had so many charming rock walls everywhere – no one knew what else to do with all the stones! It was clear from touching the soil that it had a dense, clay-like texture and when I mentioned it to my brother his response was “Well, what do you expect – you have that adobe soil.”
Adobe soil? That sounded even more challenging than clay since adobe means “mudbrick” in Spanish. I imagined native peoples digging up Sonoma soil and drying it into bricks for building pueblos. No wonder I was having such a hard time! And I have to admit that I should have listened to the neighbors.
I now have a healthy respect for Sonoma soil, for the needs of the particular plants I am trying to cultivate and for wearing the right gear when I’m gardening.
Here are the gardening boots I like to envision myself wearing:
And here are the boots I actually wear:
Hey, at least they say “Boss” on them!1