Imagine that it’s a sunny Sunday morning in late spring. The temperature is perfect. The sun is brilliantly illuminating a crisp, blue sky. As you wake feeling perfectly refreshed, you realize that some mysterious force for the good, perhaps spouse, lover, or some disembodied angel has both made coffee and put on waffles, and now the house is fragrant with the aromas of morning. As you shuffle into the kitchen in your cozy terrycloth robe and slippers, you peel that oh-so-perfect waffle off the iron, grab a cruet of maple syrup and utensils and head outdoors to the garden patio. There, amidst dancing breezes, you pour the golden syrup over your repast, barely able to contain the jets of saliva pulsing under your tongue. Then you suddenly realize it, you grasp the essence of waffle-ness, as you see that precious syrup cradled into each dimple in the waffle…
You vigorously snap to over your shovel as you realize you’re so tired from digging that you have actually fallen asleep standing up and were dreaming while excavating a… waffle garden.
You have some extra space in your back yard so you have decided to try an ancient technique for conserving water, developed by the Zuni people of the American Southwest. Instead of building up small mud-rill squares over the flat earth as they did,
you are digging down into the sod, creating depressions instead of ridges. But you know the effect will be the same: whatever water falls on the earth over your waffle garden will stay right there, and by planting in each depression you will channel whatever rain may fall directly to your crops.
Yes, though you are disappointed that the whole Sunday-morning-waffle-vision-thing was a bust, just some figment of an over-tired mind, you are glad that you do use authentic maple syrup on your waffles because if you did use that Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima junk, you probably wouldn’t care if it ran all over the plate and you wouldn’t have had the insight that water to plants is like precious real maple syrup to you, and hence you wouldn’t have become willing to dig that whole darn waffle garden!
This waffle garden really exists at Franciscan Montessori Earth School in SE Portland, where I am garden coordinator. We dug it to accompany cooking lessons in which we learn about and cook with crops of the Americas: squash, beans, tomatoes, amaranth, sunflower seeds, potatoes, yacon, etc. As such I was looking for a gardening technique from the Americas as well and stumbled upon the waffle garden. In the Pacific NW we do share drought conditions with the American SW, although ours lasts only 3 months (mid-July to mid-October, then lots of rain the rest of the year), but still the occasional storm that drops rain in August or September gets fully taken advantage of by the waffles. Plus the waffle garden has a striking visual form. While a piece of work to create, it’s pretty easy to maintain: mow the paths and then edge the squares with a weed whacker or edger. I left a grassy space in the middle where one could erect a sort of pavilion and could serve waffles on a Sunday morning, if one were so inclined.