[gardeners] The Caterpillar Samovar

penny x stamm (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 00:33:12 -0400

Catherine, I love the vision of your cement mixer tea wagon!

I had a close friend in Beijing, China, whose "postage stamp"
garden is worth describing. It possibly measured 10 x 20, at
maximum, and was surrounded by a 10ft high wooden fence. 

Of course, since they lived in the housing for Beijing University, 
theirs was the ground floor apartment of a 6-story building. 
Inside there were two small bedrooms, a kitchen, and a privy
room with a native (in the floor) porcelain toilet and a sink. 
Towels and a lavabo (bowl & pitcher) were available, and hot
water was kept in their superb quart thermoses on the floor. 
Cold water came from a community tap. Meals were eaten on a 
combination of bed, crates and chairs. There was no ice box.
And this was home to 5 grown people of the highest academic rank! 

In the garden they grew ornamentals, fruits and veggies enough
to supplement what could be bought in the market, to make their
lives more pleasant. I remember cukes, zukinis and grapes
tied up to climb, so one had to walk very carefully when either
surveying or harvesting. The plants and flowers were set into
the soil regimentally, wasting not a centimeter of space. Actually,
it was the 1st week in October, but everything was producing
well, protected by the fence, full sun, and their hand watering. 

But there was a very strange contraption suspended in midair,
with two narrow gauge plastic hoses coming out of one end and
running thru a window and into the house...  The thing measured
maybe 2 or 2.5 feet in length, 9 or 10 inches in height, and was a
cylinder. What on earth...? Well, what we had here was the brain
child of a physicist and a biologist: a solar water heater. Someone 
had to fill the "tank" with cold water by hand, and then Mother Nature
did the rest of the work for them, for there was not a citizen in the
city who had hot water on tap!  There was usually enough hot water 
for laundry, dishes and sponge bathing [real baths were public and
a few blocks away.] In inclement weather, no hot water. In good 
weather, those thermoses held the heat for over 24 hrs! 

What my friend wanted most of all was some tulip bulbs -- she would
have sold her soul to get some, and so when she knew I was coming, 
she begged me to pull any strings I could to carry them along. It's 
hard to believe but my local nurseryman arranged to get me 3 dozen
bulbs from his Dutch importer, 3 weeks ahead of their arrival for sale
here in the stores. And I sold my soul to the Devil and negotiated the
permission with the Chinese government, so I could bring them in.  
After my departure for points in the interior, those tulips were
planted ......... 

Two years later I returned to Beijing. Ummn, uh -- where were the
tulips, or their offspring..? Someone had stolen them the very first
time they had bloomed, in some way getting over the 10 ft solid fence
one couldn't even see through!  When I thought about it, wasn't that
tiny gem of a garden visible to all the apartments overhead....????

Penny, zone 6, NY

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