Can I just say I love my garden? After last year, in which I got basically nothing (except bumper crops of things that predate my efforts) despite what felt like a heroic attempt to uncover beds and build up the soil, this year, I’ve already got a head of spinach and two radishes to my credit, plus tomato starts (they’re probably too late to grow into something, but still,) and since I put the rabbit fence up less than a week ago, there’s evidence that my zucchini and pumpkin plants might actually grow into something. I’ve got something that could be the beginnings of bok choi, and what look like starts from my cilantro. I’ve got pea shoots that are forming pods and carrot tops and parsley plants that are growing daily. I can’t tell whether I’ve got grass or green onions, and the beans, peppers lettuce, and basil and other herbs that weren’t already growing have been too recently planted or replanted to tell.
The Road to Gardening Bliss
I spent last summer fighting the automatic sprinkler system and losing, and rabbits and other critters laid waste to my garden last year, what I was even able to get into the ground in a timely way. This year, the sprinkler was addressed more competently. Composting is underway. Also, I actually put up the fencing I bought last year and it’s working great. I’m still battling bunnies eating my grass (much of which I needed to replant after last year’s sprinkler defeat), but the spinach and radishes reached maturity after I installed a rabbit fence around a small raised bed full of spring veggies (pictured), and I’m hopeful that my permanent bed will yield more for my efforts than I’ve seen, lately.
I absolutely love gardening, which surprises me. I showed little early talent for it, and have been at it for years without much to show for it. And you can spend a lot of money and time being not good at gardening, take my word for it, which does not normally endear me to a practice. I don’t think of myself as a patient person, and the degree of frustration inherent in gardening (just the failure rate from the sheer number of things that are not entirely within your control, including variables like how much sun a given bed gets; whether you get hail, critters, soil quality, seed quality, whether your sprinklers work as planned, etc.) is pretty high. For most of my life, I’ve also hated weeding because I’m highly allergic.
But it’s so magical, when something grows, or when you try something and it works out. And it turns out that, even if I’m not patient (and I might be more patient than I think), I’m persistent. And persistent? That’s a fine quality for a gardener. Ridiculously, hard-headedly, stubbornly persistent, like me? Now we’re talking.
I’ve grown to love weeding. It’s productive without being intense, which is a lovely thing. I tend to make things really intense, but there’s no such thing as perfect, when it comes to weeding. There’s just progress for today and the knowledge that there’ll be more of it to do tomorrow (I’m not a chemical person, so I’m pretty much guaranteed that there’ll be weeds tomorrow, too. Though white vinegar has been great for deterring dandelion regrowth, so far this spring.) But I’ve noticed that diligence pays over time— even without chemicals, a diligently weeded garden needs less weeding over time. There seems to be a tipping point where Mother Nature just sends those spores where they’ll be more hospitably received. I suspect the fact that I’m on a much more effective allergy medication makes a big difference in my enjoyment, also.
Garden Establishment and Beyond!
One of the big lessons in gardening has been, for me, the need to pinch plants back. I don’t like it. A healthy, growing plant is a victory! But I’ve inherited mint in my last two gardens, and the truth is that, unchecked, it’s a problem. I’m finding the same is true for my chives, which are starting to crowd out other plants in the raised bed they share. I don’t use that many chives or mint, and I want to grow other things in those planters, so I have to thin them out. I take comfort in the lesson of dead-heading I learned from flower gardening. It seemed harsh to pull spent and fading flowers, but my dianthus only really thrived when I did it. It created an opportunity for new growth and more flowers over time. And I have started to recognize that thinning out a plant allows the healthiest plants to grow large and healthy— if you just let it be crowded, you end up with lots of little plants competing for resources and nothing ever becomes all that it could. I have some plants in my office that I thinned earlier this spring. I created four full-sized new plants from the overgrowth of the three pots in my office, and now the pots in my office and the new plants are all growing like gangbusters! I’ll likely have to thin them again in less than a year at this rate!
I also need to fertilize. I’ve been ridiculously resistant to fertilizer for years for reasons difficult to explain beyond that I like to do things the hard way. But with a relatively short growing season in my neck of the woods, I’m starting to accept that it’s the only way to get plants effectively to maturity. I start them inside in March, but seedlings indoor are so frail that if I’m not there to watch them—and I do typically travel some in the spring— they won’t make it. For whatever reason, Mom won’t water a plant unless she personally bought it, in which case we both water it and it drowns. Seedlings have to be watered so frequently that they’ve died just by skipping one or two days.
I think the next horizon for me in the garden is to maximize the beds for year-round. The beds at my old condo were going in that direction— daffodils in the spring, followed by tulips, then irises, then dianthus and dragonflower in the summer. The beds at my current house were built that way— one does crocus in the early spring, something (oregano? a mild mint variant I can’t identify?) in the summer, and chrysanthemum in the fall, though I’ve let the summertime something overgrow and it’s overwhelming the spring and fall flowerings. I don’t know much about rotation to keep the soil good (though I’m a composter and the beds are small enough that I hope that’s not too much of an issue.) I do know that rotation can help combat chronic problems in the soil (which I encountered with some container gardening at the condo) and pests, so I want to learn more about it.
I spend a lot of time thinking of myself as an artist. I deliberately took a somewhat artistic path when I became an English major. But the truth is that one of the 45 things I wanted to be as a kid was a scientist (and another was an astronaut, which is just a scientist in a funkier lab coat). I always found science humbling and amazing. And being in the garden/being a DIYer? Gives you lots of chances to see how things work. For a spiritual person, it teaches you a lot about the created world and your place in it. I’m building my very own outdoor laboratory, flowerpot by garden bed, learning by doing and conducting experiments. It’s kind of like another passion of mine, cooking— if you stick with it long enough to learn some basics and enjoy any level of success, you can learn to do it better and it can build toward a passion over time.