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.
Gardens are, I think, a little like children. Give them good soil to grow in, a little encouragement and they’ll do a great job of growing up all by themselves! I too have a shelf full of books, but have found that the best teacher is the climate and experience. Something that used to work very well in England, or Melbourne, or northern New South Wales is completely pointless here, where the daily rainfall can be measured in tens of centimetres rather than millimetres, where the sun shines for more than 300 days a year and where the enemy is not the cold, but the humidity. I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of vegetables who simply refuse to live here, but in the process, I’ve discovered all sorts of others!
Oh, dear friend, you have stated exactly my experience! I used to even plan to keep a garden journal, and various friends have given me beautiful ones over the years. Then I realized that in any already too-planned-out life, I like having my garden be chaotic and full of surprises. And now I’ve gone and added three chickens to the mix, who have their own ideas about how gardens should grow. It’s all great fun, and every day is a blessed surprise and a space of tranquility amidst the chaos.
Brava for writing about it for all us chaotic gardeners!
“In any already too-planned-out life, I like having my garden be chaotic and full of surprises.” So true!
You describe very well what most of us probably feel. Your comment about rushing one more row in, after having intended to be reverent and intentional, especially hits home this morning. I did that last night. Despite knowing how important planting is, and how important it is to me now not to live life in a hurry, I stayed out late last night, planting in the dark, because I wanted to finish the garden before it rained again. So I worked late, rushed it, didn’t do or appreciate it as I should have, and it didn’t rain.
But I love how you end the post with the beautifully expressed truth that despite our often poor attempts to tame and manage the earth, every year she offers us an abundance of life-sustaining gifts. I’m glad I read this this morning. I’m going to try to go slow today. 🙂
It’s hard to balance isn’t it Bill? Our planting plans have been rained out many times, so logic tells us to hurry. Yet when we hurry, we’re not only somewhat disengaged from the process but also more likely to make mistakes. Ah, life….