My gardens are made of the best intentions.
In the winter I flip through gardening catalogs and map out planting schemes. I read diverse and wonderful books like Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, and Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. I tell myself I’ll be a better gardener the next spring. More energetic, more diligent, more heat tolerant.
That doesn’t happen.
I intend to plant with deep reverence for seed and soil. And I start out that way. But somehow I always find myself hurrying to get one more row in before the sprinkling rain becomes a downpour. The seeds I so carefully saved dump out as I bend over like peasant women have done for eons. The dirt I thought reasonably crumbly is, instead, filled with clay-ish clods unlikely to make a hospitable home for new life.
Indoors it’s not much better. No one is more optimistic than I with my peat pots, grow lights, and warming trays. I talk to those seeds as I plant them, bless them as I mist them, greet sprouts with happy enthusiasm. Somehow between March starting and May setting out, those plants end up looking like the odd kids among their nursery-raised fellows.
Then the heat hits and my best intentions fail. This year, just as every other year, my not-so-well-maintained garden is a constant surprise. I mistake watermelon radish sprouts for weeds and pull them all out. The row I replanted, thinking the beets didn’t germinate, now contains both beets and arugula. Volunteer tomatoes and scarlet runner beans thrill me. Volunteer tomatillo plants plague me. The fig trees we planted against our stucco’d south-facing wall are thriving after a harsh winter, with actual figs ripening. The hardy kiwis we planted against a giant arbor are, embarrassingly, only a foot tall.
But the biggest delight is how much the garden doesn’t need me. My ministrations are marginal, hardly necessary next to nature’s real magic. Sure, I water pretty diligently from our rain barrel and pond. I weed a little every day, but not much, since hot weather makes me feel like keeling over. But I’m not remotely responsible for the riot of life growing around me. These flowers, vegetables, and weeds are all beautiful.
This time of year is truly nature’s long gift-giving holiday. Every day I come in with armfuls of produce. A basket of basil and garlic to make pesto. Cucumbers and tender squash for salad. Baskets of beans, potatoes, and kale to layer in a frittata with our hens’ eggs. A few tomatoes for salsa. Soon we’ll be canning day after day, filling shelves in the cellar with food that’ll last until late next summer. My good intentions may not be evident along the rows ragged with weeds, but Earth’s good intentions are abundantly obvious. For that I’m endlessly grateful.