The Constant Gardener

In some places, it’s a choice. In Bali, it’s necessity. In order to have a yard, or a path, or any space that’s clear of serpentine vines that weave bushes and trees together in an impenetrable wall, one needs a constant gardener.

That’s Ketut.

When he’s not hacking back the foliage, or mowing with his machete, he’s involved in the finer art of botanical husbandry.

“What’s that for?” I ask as he rounds the corner with a bucket of dirt and some black plastic.

“Make new tree,” he answers.

“Really?”

“You like this one?” He points to a gardenia bush. He knows I love the sweet-scented flowers.

“Yes, of course!” I say.

“Okay, make new.”

“What’s wrong with it?” I ask, a little confused. He’s on his haunches and has set about cutting into the bark of a strong, healthy plant.

“Ya this already good. Make new.”

If Ketut were a spouse I’m sure he would have lost patience with me long ago. But he’s not so I badger him with no fear of rebuff. As he works he explains what he’s doing and I duck into the house for the camera.

About an inch of bark is scraped off all around the trunk

Ketut scrapes off about an inch of bark all around the trunk

A piece of plastic is secured below the cut area and secured with string

He secures a piece of plastic below the cut area and ties it with string

Forming a cupped shape, he scoops dirt into the opening

Forming a cupped shape, he scoops dirt into the opening

When dirt encircles the scarred trunk the plastic is drawn together and secured at the top. Another string is tied around the center.

When dirt encircles the scarred area of the trunk the plastic is drawn together and tied at the top and around the center.

Finally, Ketut punctures the pouch in several places to allow water to enter

Finally, using a sharp knife, Ketut punctures the pouch in several places to allow water to enter

In about three weeks, he tells me, a new root system will have formed inside the dirt ball. He’ll cut the bush off just below the plastic, leave the stump, and plant the tree. In days the stump will sprout new growth.

Plants are cheap here. A gardenia bush that size might cost 50,000 rupiah ($4.50). But Ketut comes from a farming family in the mountains. They grow oranges. He was taught early how to ‘make new trees’ and brings that knowledge with him to my garden. And I must say, it’s infinitely more delightful to watch Ketut make a new tree than to go to the nursery and buy one!

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