Published: November 9, 2013
eople often talk about Sandra Knauf as being the green woman. But they don't mean she's wet behind the ears. There's nothing inexperienced about the Colorado Springs woman who is becoming well known in the world of eco-gardening.
If you look at her yard, you'll see an amazing cottage garden gone wild.
Greenwoman, the literary garden magazine she founded two years ago, is just as lush and untamed.
Now she has published "Zera and the Green Man," a science fiction novel for young adults. Kirkus Reviews praised it, noting: "The genetically modified plants won't be forgotten anytime soon." That's for sure.
Too many to name
She didn't start out green.
Knauf didn't grow up on a farm as you might expect. Her parents weren't gardeners.
Her main experience, as she put it, was being "a servant of the Great American Lawn." She kept a few scraggly plants in her bedroom, though she admits the greenery barely survived her sporadic attention.
When she was 19, Knauf worked for a lawn chemical company, the thought of which she says now is horrifying: "All those pesticides and weed killers."
But that was then. Now she is a believer in all that is eco-friendly.
As of this fall, her plants were thriving on about a half acre in the Old Colorado City area. She and her husband, Andrew, own two houses side by side. And it's a good thing, because one can't imagine what she'd have done if she had only one plot.
"When we moved in, it was mostly grass and mud," she explains. She's gotten rid of most of the grass and cuts it with a non-power reel mower. She mentions that 5 percent of the country's pollution come from gas-powered lawn mowers, that lawns waste water and do not sustain butterflies, bees, birds and wildlife. She waters her landscape deeply only once a week, including the native plants that are drought tolerant.
Her garden welcomes all those critters, including the mouse that makes its home there, and her 13-year-old Labrador retriever Broonzy. He is mostly blind, deaf and lame, but joyfully makes his way along the sandstone and mulch garden paths, stopping to nibble affectionately on visitors' pants legs.
It's a very charming garden in a free form way, the kind you want to sit in with a cup of tea and good book.
It's accented with found items such as the clawfoot tub that once held goldfish, and an old sink that Knauf has not quite decided what to do with. There are tomatoes and dahlias in a handcrafted greenhouse, a couple of rustic sheds, an herb garden, a vegetable plot and so many plants in riotous profusion that it's hard to single any of them out.
"Well, there's Artemis, morning glory, blue mist spirea, Russian sage, old roses, calendula, asparagus, squash, raspberries, lambs ears, cherry and plumb trees, spearmint, scotch mint, chocolate mint, lilies, parsley, rosemary clary sage." Her voice trails off, as if the whole list would keep her there forever.
Knauf majored in English at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and fell in love with garden writing. It's a niche category that keeps company with agriculture writing and nature writing. It's popular now, but the first time she experienced it was when she read a garden anthology with fascinating essays by Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson and Edith Wharton.
She explains that garden writing combines not only gardening, but history, fashion, sociology, science, literature, art and spirituality.
Years ago, one of her first articles won a first place at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference for creative nonfiction for an essay. "The Chicken Chronicles" told of Knauf and her two daughters' experiences raising exotic breed Bantams. The win encouraged her to continue writing about her life and, eventually, led to founding the magazine.
She has been inspired by Peter Tompkins' "The Secret Life of Plants: a Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man," and Michael Pollan's, "Second Nature" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma, which takes to task giant agri-business.
Tompkins writes about how plants have the ability to adapt to human wishes and communicate.
Knauf says she doesn't talk to her plants. "Well, only when I occasionally pulls weeds. I tell them I'm sorry."
Greenwoman is born
But sentient plants do play an important role in the climax of her book, as does the so-called Green Man.
Knauf has a terra cotta replica of the Green Man that she found at a flea market and placed on one of her garden sheds. She explains he is an archetype of man's oneness with nature, typically found in the medieval architecture, especially on church facades. The Green Man, she said, was a representation of Osiris in ancient Egypt. The figure is usually depicted with vines and roots growing from its head.
She has more Green Man replicas in the office of her craftsman-style cottage. The decor is as eclectic as her garden, a pleasant jumble of antiques and found objects. There are flower photos on the wall and floral patterns on the couch and rug.
Researching the Green Man, she said, "I wondered why isn't there a green woman? I know Mother Nature, but still it bothered me."
And so was born the name of her magazine. In 2011, she receive a grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation to help get Greenwoman started.
The magazine is not your typical slick "how to" home and garden product. She calls it a garden literary magazine. The pages are filled with personal musings, photos, drawings, poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She's been able to attract numerous well-known writers and obtain permission for reprints, in spite of having a shoestring budget.
One edition included her interview with Amanda Thomsen, the author of "Kiss My Aster" and a popular edgy garden blogger; an essay on ant societies; a cartoon presentation about renegade hens; remembrances of an apple picker; and an excerpt from 1930's "The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder, which waxed poetic about the "pleasures of the nose" found in a garden.
"Greenwoman magagine reaches the poet, the artist and the dreamer in all us gardeners," wrote Larry Stebbins, director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, on greenwomanmagazine.com.
Another reader and local gardener, Pam Richey, said, "For us gardening people, Greenwoman is the best antidote for failing tomatoes and flea beetle infested kale. Sandra has a way of making the best and the funniest stories out of gardening mishaps and happiness."
Knauf writes, edits and is the business manager all rolled into one. Her daughter Zora Knauf works with her, doing a bit of everything, including Web and magazine design. "She is a second reader for everything, including my own writing," Knauf said.
This summer, she published her first book, "Zera and the Green Man," under her Greenwoman Publishing, It's available on Kindle and Amazon.com.
It follows Zera Green, a teen who can communicate with plants, and who does battle with a company that is creating hair-raising genetically modified products such as the walato, a dubious food made from the genes of a tomato and walrus.
The book is "brimming with wit and spunk," wrote Knauf's writing mentor D'Arcy Fallon, who is a former Gazette columnist and associate professor of English at Wittenberg University in Ohio. "Zera and the Green Man will strike a chord with readers of any age who like to eat their tomatoes the old fashioned way - with just a bit of salt."
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