I have a love-hate-ambivalent-hate-hate-love relationship with my garden. With the ACT of gardening. I think it’s probably also indicative of my parenting style, which pretty much makes me a terrible person. Here’s the deal. I’m sure most of the gardening gurus tell you that the key – the SECRET to a lovely garden is to plan it out well in the beginning stages. That is probably very, very good advice. And I do plan my garden. It goes like this: “I’m’a grow stuff!”
Then I go to a greenhouse. Usually at the beginning of spring, when your pores open up as soon as you walk in and your skin remembers what it is to be sun-warmed, and your whole soul lifts at least seventy degrees from the horizontal plank position it’s been in since December. I see all the seedlings, and the thing about seedlings, just like children, is that they are full of energy. Potential and energy. You can see what they could become. This one, a bushy green tomato, fruit hanging low from each vine; that one a dark green bush bean whose fruit hide under its umbrella foliage. That over there, a climbing, purple-bloomed clematis. A spray of heliotrope. Kisses of black-eyed susans trailing from hanging baskets.
I picture myself walking through my garden, flowers in full bloom, vegetables ripening to feed my family. I think about a soft carpet of clover and moss, of having a living wall, of vertical gardens and trellises and the whisper of wind through the leaves of the trees. This is when I buy all of the things. Trays and seeds and bulbs and trays of trays and things that aren’t supposed to grow here (“It will grow! I will love it and care for it and it will become verdant and amazing and all of the gardeners will say HOW DID YOU DO THAT and I will be coy, and tell them that sometimes, what grows in your garden is simply a mirror of your soul.”) and things that should grow here and things that are native to this part of the world and things that have become acclimatized to this part of the world.
I fully admit that a large part of what happens involves the sheer romance of the language of horticulture. Cultivar. Tuber. Pistil. LOAM. The seedlings do well in my house – the ones the cats don’t get. The ones that don’t get knocked over when we go to clean the table off to eat supper or to play D&D. I do strange, ritualistic things called “hardening off” and “transplantation”. I prepare my beds. I weed. I till. I mix in peat and compost and bone meal. I put those little effers in the soil “when all [read: most] danger of frost has passed” (which around here is usually bloody August). I pay attention to the phase of the moon and the weather reports. I weed.
The little seeds sprout, and I cheer them on. Yes, I cheer them on (“Go beans, Go! Yaaaaaay Beans! Go peas go! Yaaaaaaay peas! Go potatoes go! Yaaaaaaay Potatoes!”). I sing them little songs “I knew a tomato-oh-oh-oh so proud and red; she was the glooooory of the vegetable bed!” I keep the deer and the birds and the footballs out of their beds. I weed.
I water them. I cover them with sheets when it’s too cold for their tender fronds, leaves, and runners. I hill the ones that need hilling. I mulch the ones that need mulching. I build trellises. I weed.
So why. Why, tell me for the love of God why. Why do I keep doing this? I get some pretty lilies blooming. I get seventeen peas. I get more beans than anyone can shake a stick at. I get a half dozen tiny potatoes. I get more chickweed than Christ himself could muster on a hill full of people and only one loaf of bread and one fish. Where in the bloody stool does chickweed even come from? I only ever get it when I plant peas. I’m not even kidding. That crap doesn’t come up when I grow weeds. It doesn’t come up when I plant spinach and kale and carrots. But it chokes the ever-loving hell out of my peas.
It’s an exercise in self-loathing, gardening is. Because I always THINK I’m working hard enough, but I never really am. If I were I’d have planned the garden better, or I’d have not gone away for vacation that time, or I’d have weeded the day before the storm not the day after. The peas would have strong roots, and wouldn’t just pop out of the ground when a strong wind came through (poor peas). The potatoes would have straw mulch, not half-hearted grass clippings (sorry, tubers). The tomatoes would have got enough water earlier on and wouldn’t be all spindly and awkward-looking (I love you even when you look weird, tomatoes!). The peppers would effing bloom (I’m actually disappointed in you, peppers).
Awkward, isn’t it? It goes the same way with my family, though. I spent so much time with the kids when they were little – not that they’re not still little; they’ll always be my babies – and now that they’re mostly self-sufficient, I pretty much leave them to their own devices except to make sure they bathe fairly regularly, leave the computer screens to eat (I sometimes fail at this), exercise, and have nice manners. But for the most part, I just let them do their own thing. This is my philosophy about gardening. Give things a good start and with a little maintenance now and then, they’ll pretty much take care of themselves. But then I see my garden be a little sad and underproductive and I worry about my kids. Have I done it wrong? What if their leaves are full and they haven’t any bugs but their roots are weak and they can’t survive a strong wind?