There are lots of things that satisfy me about gardening. Here are some of my favorites.
Preparing the Soil:
Yesterday afternoon we were weeding the garden. I’ve planted carrots, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and lettuce in long rows, along with onions and potatoes. Every year for nearly twenty years I’d get a 10-yard dump truck load of mushroom manure from the Mushroom Farm in Petaluma. In case you don’t know how much that is, it’s a pile that would nearly touch the second story of a house! I’d work this into the dark clay soil one wheelbarrow at a time (and yes, my arms got sore). I usually got a sunburn on that day, and for a week afterwards, the whole yard smelled like a manure pile.
To me, it smelled like Heaven! Really! So, last night, as I was pulling these weeds, they came out so clean, the soil was so balanced and lovely, with just the right amount of moistness and nutrients, it was pure pleasure. My remaining little plants are standing straight and tall this morning. A great garden takes years in the making, because it has to start with wonderful soil.
I’ve hired gardeners to help with some of the heavy labor, and help set up irrigation systems, something I’ve not taken the time to learn. Some day. All of them remark how they’d like to put in this system and that, to help with the watering. And they’d look at me strange when I’d tell them, “But I like the two hours a day it takes to water.”
I really do. I look over the leaves as the wand spreads the wet goodness and washes away the dirt and grit, I watch as it sinks into the soil. I snip the heads off flowers while I water (I wear an apron with clippers, a small shovel, mosquito repellant, some assorted seeds for in-filling, a couple plastic plant identifiers and a permanent marker, along with some string). I replant seeds that didn’t come up, or replace a plant that won’t grow properly with a new seed, or bury the seeds I’m dead-heading back into the soil to create volunteers. It’s the tending it takes to notice, adjust and gently coax and guide my garden into a thing of beauty.
And it very much is like writing a book.
Small shoots of cabbage and lettuces are plucked for salads. Othertimes I just thin the plants so that the ones remaining have room to grow. When your fingers work the soil so carefully and closely, you see things you would miss otherwise. Last night I discovered one of my baby praying mantis bugs. I put a larvae of them on each of two rose bushes in my garden out back. Each is supposed to harvest about 500 little mantis, who are voracious eaters of aphids and other non-beneficial bugs. Since he was crawling over the little pile of weeds, I carefully cupped my hands around his little 1/2″ body and placed him back in the roses where he could find the best food. Unless I’d been on my knees doing this job, I’d have missed getting introduced to him!
Every year my garden takes on a new personality, like the books I write. Working on my hands and knees, or watching from above carefully, helps me get to know the garden that wants to reveal itself to me. Yes, I don’t grow the garden. The garden grows all by itself. I just place the order of things, set the stage for the play they create all their own. It is a very magical experience for me. It’s like discovering characters that fall in love, or experience hurt or happiness in my books.
Taking the Bounty:
Harvesting comes along with the changing of the seasons. Like in the Bible, the time to sow and time to harvest. When I remove something, I can replant, or put something else in its place. Or, I can let the ground rest. Like one of my favorite signs over my desk states, “My garden isn’t dead. It’s sleeping.” Letting a garden rest is a good thing.
Eating the first fruits of my labor is always a joy. I’ve now had my first sunflower. My first handful of sugar peas, flat French beans and we’ve juiced lots of baby Chinese cabbage and bok choi plants as we’ve thinned the mounds. I’ve had a half dozen cherry tomatoes already and am on my second cycle of lettuce. We had enough small patty pan squash for dinner last night too.
And that reminds me, time to get the refrigerator cleaned out, because I’m about to become inundated with good, healthy food!
As you see, I could go on and on. There is one mindset for a flower garden. Another for a food garden. And I like to mix them together as well. I think lettuce grows well at the base of a trellis of sweet pea blossoms. Calendulas help with the moths that bring aphids and also discourage gophers. The garden changes every day, and each day it emotes different emotions as I tend, watch and enjoy seeing it transform before my eyes.
It is truly a living work of art. Hopelessly addicted. In love forever.