This evening, we had dinner with some new friends at their home across the river.  Their house is charming and it is old, with all of the lovely idiosyncrasies that come with age.  I love old houses (I live in one) and their (usual) lack of level floors or square corners.  They emit a different aura and aroma, the products of the many years of life and experience that they have hosted.

I also enjoy trying to figure out just what, exactly, a former owner was thinking when he or she framed an addition a certain way or wired an electrical circuit so uniquely.  When we first moved in to our house, we found a door in the foyer that opened not into the next room but into the wall cavity.  Similarly, our new friends discovered that the switch for the porch light was located inside a closet.  In both cases, the condition was “corrected” (door removed; switch relocated) but who knows what crucial details we overlooked.  There were probably very good reasons for each condition at the time.

In their front and side yards, our friends have planted two large gardens.  The one in front, which they call the stockade for the tall cast iron fence that encloses it, is devoted to flowers and other ornamental plants.  Paths meander through it and there is a central clearing with a café table and chairs.  It looks like a very pleasant spot to sip morning coffee and read the paper.

As beautiful as the flower garden is, my attention was more keenly piqued by the vegetable garden in their side yard.This plot, planted at ground level, is also enclosed but in a more utilitarian—and potentially shocking—manner.  In addition to the chicken wire, there is a single strand of electric fence that loops around the garden a few inches above the ground.  It is at just the right height to deter the groundhogs that had been making off with the cabbages and tomatoes before the electric fence was installed.

The fence is not the only technology that our friends have deployed in their garden.  To keep an eye on the veggies when they are not at home, they access a webcam from their laptop computer (this is how they established the guilt of the groundhog) and if they observe (via webcam) that the garden is looking a bit parched, they can activate their drip irrigation system with a few strokes of the keyboard or clicks of the mouse.  I may be consulting with them to set up a motion-activated infrared camera (which they also have installed) to see who’s been digging in my garden at night.

We spent most of the evening on the back deck, eating perfectly-grilled salmon, chicken, ribs and vegetables while drinking Hummingbird Cocktails (which were very refreshing) and Côtes de Provence (dry rosés are perfect summer wines).  As the night wore on and the sounds of the crickets and cicadas swelled, we discussed what future technologies they might introduce.

The most promising idea was an internet-controlled robot that could patrol the garden and chase away whatever critters successfully bypass the electric fence.  It may seem a bit far-fetched but gardeners will do what it takes to protect their vegetables.

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