My family jokes that I’m always planning the garden. And they’re right. That’s me, above, a few years ago in my first community garden plot. It wasn’t my first time gardening, though. I grew up with a prolific gardener – my grandfather. Every spring he would start planning the garden in late winter. He had the greenest thumb, and it seemed to us that whatever he planted just grew brilliantly. We had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and carrots – straight from the garden – almost every day at dinnertime. He had heritage raspberry bushes that took over an entire length of our yard. I can never eat grocery store raspberries without comparing them to the juiciest, sweet raspberries that my sister and I used to eat like candy off of the bushes. Marigolds, peach trees, rose bushes – he was a master gardener.
After he passed away, I tried to take over the garden plot that he left behind, but it wasn’t long before the land was sold, and I had moved far enough away that visiting was only a weekly trip, if that. And as times passes, weeds took over the garden, including the insidious and horrific bindweed, which ended up choking the raspberry bushes to death. In the end, the garden died, it was eventually turned into a lawn, and the family that lives there now probably has no idea of the goodness that grew under their very feet for so many years.
However, I inherited that love of earth, and the green thumb that goes along with it. When I started my first garden, I pored over gardening books, learning everything I could about how different classes of vegetables grow; what flourishes when and in what kind of soil; and what I didn’t learn from the books, I learned from trial and error. The community garden plot was a dream come true for me, until it was turned into a dog park, and I was left without a garden for yet another year.
I never gave up, though. Even after we moved into a little apartment, I was determined to make the best use of the small grassy area outside my patio doors. I learned about raised beds, and the next year we had installed four little beds for me to work in. This is when my boys were quite young, so I would enlist their help in carrying water from the kitchen sink through the living room and out the back door, since there were no hoses. They loved it, though, and it was fun to watch them learn to eat their food straight off the plants. And the carpet definitely got a watering, too!
But time passed still, and I moved out of that apartment, and the beds were torn down before the next tenant moved in. I spent a couple of years with a few potted plants here and there, but nothing truly exciting or elaborate. Still, it never stopped me from dreaming every spring about planning the garden for the year to come. I have lists of seeds and diagrams of what my ideal garden would look like one day, complete with a kitchen herb garden, aromatic flowers bounding a garden trail, and the most flavorful heritage seeds I could choose.
The yard I have now is perfect for little children to run around and play in, but is almost completely shaded by a thick wall of trees. And I can’t complain about that, really, because it’s so beautiful and peaceful to look out my window at trees, trees, trees. But the lack of sunshine leaves me very little space to plant any summer crops. Last year I resorted to miniature versions of tomatoes and cucumbers that could grow in pots, which I strategically placed after charting out which areas around the home got the most sunshine. I had a lot of luck. My plants grew and were prolific for the miniature versions that they were.
So this year, I’m putting the Mr to work, with plans to build a handful of raised beds for me to plant in again. I’m still charting the sun on the few clear days that we have, in order to see where to best place them to get the most sunlight, and I know at least a couple of them will be more for partial sun crops, rather than the full-on cucumbers and tomatoes I would grow and eat all year round if I could. Kale, chard and lettuce greens are bursting with flavor when picked fresh, and they do well in partial sun. I have plans, I tell you. Big plans! Plans that will be quickly covered in weeds when this new baby comes and I spend more time sleeping and nursing than I could out weeding the garden, but still. Every garden is a good garden; if not crop-wise, then by the learning that comes with it.
I can’t let a growing season go by without putting in at least a small order of seeds though. I have a plethora of seeds leftover from last year, many of them picked up on sale for a few pennies at the end of the season. Between what I have and the fact that my new little one will take up a good deal of time, I can’t really justify a huge order, but I do have a couple of special seeds selected for fun. For example, these atomic grape tomatoes from rareseeds.com are so beautiful. Even though I’ve grown and love heirloom seeds, every year I am tempted by the amazing hybrids that gardeners more talented than I create, and I like to have a good mixture of both.
So while the sky is gray and the forecast is calling for yet another round of snow, I’m sitting inside, making yet another list of what to plant, and when; and getting my little growing lights out, and counting back the days from when the last frost will (hopefully) be, so that by the time the earth is ready, I’ll have some healthy little seedlings ready to go. And with a little luck and cooperation from the weather, my children will be out picking the beans and cherry tomatoes off the plants again this summer.
Happy gardening dreams!