Helen Gunderson
2004 Container Garden
Quasi Webcam


For a couple of years, I have played with having a small garden on the deck of my apartment. It's one of the ways I can be closely in touch with nature. It's also a way to connect with the spirit of my grandmother and great-grandmother and other wonderful gardeners. Fortunately, I don't have to rely on my low-productivity garden for personal sustenance but can turn to the Magic Beanstalk community supported agriculture program and the two farmers' markets in Ames for locally-grown food. Also, I have generous friends who have large gardens.

During the 2004 garden season, it seemed fitting to do something akin to a webcam. I used the nifty new digital camera that I got in the Spring of 2004 and occasionally photographed my garden and posted the images. It wasn't a live 24-7 project, so you won't see me on the deck in my sleepwear at some late hour of the morning or hear me complain about the cabbage moths feasting on my kale. But then again, you won't be able to smell the lavender, cilantro, or basil; taste the ripe sugar peas; or feel the flesh of the pie pumpkins as they turn orange. Of course, you may have gardening pleasures in your own backyard, on a trip to Tuscany, or someplace in between.

When I began the project, I was eager to photograph the garden and post the images. As the summer wore on, however, I realized how much effort and time it took to do the job. I certainly enjoyed the work but am glad that the growing season is drawing to an end. I'll continue to take a few photos as summer fades into winter, but this quasi-webcam project will enter the fallow phase. For sure, I will garden again next spring, but I am not so sure I will keep taking photos and posting them when the growing season begins again.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I lived in California and was away from my Iowa roots, I enjoyed going to retreats and workshops at the Wellspring Renewal Center near Philo, which was 2 1/2 hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. Visitors were encouraged to work in the large garden, and it was a beautiful place to center on the essence of life, whether mixing up compost or taking a meditative walk. The center relied heavily on fruit and vegetables from the garden for the sumptuous meals that the cooks served to the staff members and visitors who gathered at the farmhouse dining tables to feast and have fine conversation. In 1988, I wrote the following while staying at Wellspring.

On Being at Home in the Garden

I enter the garden, searching and yearning,
homing in on that visceral Something that lures me.

The garden is home, sanctuary, embrace and acceptance.
It connects me to a voice not heard in religions whose steeples pierce upward, away from earth, away from home.

The garden is home with no division between sacred and secular.
It nurtures and sustains, uniting people and nature, the past with present and future.

The garden calls me to that renewing center where I am loved and where the spirits of those I love are with me.

The garden reminds me that eternal life has as much to do with the quality of life in each grace-given moment as it does with unending chronological time.

container garden photos

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