August 22, 2010
Tending the Garden
Anyone who begins to garden believing it’ll be a fun project for a while needs to get her head on straight. Gardening is like marriage. It’s a commitment.
After the initial planning and planting (think of the wedding ceremony), there are years of work to keep your garden beautiful, balanced, and alive. Years and years of work.
Should you falter, your garden, like your marriage, suffers. The result is an unintentioned, unhappy, chaotic mess.
When we bought this house 23 years ago, in a burst of naive enthusiasm we tore up the front and back yards, uprooted failing greenery, and designed and planted new gardens. They were maintained spring and fall: shrubs and trees pruned, nonperformers replaced, weeds eliminated. Until I broke my heel being Martha Stewart at Christmas in 2000.
A fractured calcaneus is not a ride in the park. This is an injury that usually happens to roofers who fall 30 feet to the ground, not women who tumble off a step stool while hanging swags on her living room windows.
“Calcaneus fractures are generally quite severe injuries, and often lead to longstanding problems of the foot and ankle. The complications can be separated into early and late.” No lie.
The short term complications were a 7 month nuisance that stretched into July: a cast, followed by a brace, followed by a boot, followed by an ankle support, followed by a custom insole, with 3 months of hopping because no weight can be placed on the injured foot. Now if I had been a 17-year old athlete, surgery would have been recommended because my sporting career would still have been ahead of me. But I was not, so I got the treatment I got.
The long term effects include pain, throbbing, arthritis, widening of the foot (My shoes! There went the gorgeous pumps in my closet.), decreased ankle motion, and what looks like a small potato swelling in my ankle. Now an enjoyable afternoon working in the yard makes me swallow multiple Advil PM so I can sleep through the night.
Nature, like life, is unpredictable. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Bill and I have often sat on the back porch and been thankful that we are not farmers. One year it rains so much the soil is waterlogged, roots rot, and we want to build an ark. Another year, it’s so hot, so dry, daily watering is mandatory until the water bill skyrockets and we give up before we deplete our savings. Plants with a history of great performance just stop. Others I’ve long forgotten about continue to bloom. And still others self-seed, reproducing themselves wherever.
Ten years ago I snugged Grandpa Ott morning glory seeds into a pot, hoping to contain their rambunctious behavior. Foolish me. A decade later, it’s taken over a corner of the back garden, blooming each summer morning in colors like the psychedelic heyday of the Fillmore Ballroom. Two years ago goldenrod appeared in our front garden. I did not plant goldenrod and I’m fairly certain that no neighbor — heck, no one in our entire neighborhood — is growing goldenrod. When it first emerged I didn’t know what it was, so I let it be. Six feet later I realized my mistake. Still, it’s here again as I never got around to pulling it out.
This summer the heat and humidity have kept me indoors in front of a fan, so I’m not diligent in tending the garden which doesn’t appear to like this summer either. At least not in our yard.
The raccoons ate the first flush of tomatoes, so all we’ve gotten so far is a handful of the red cherry, Koralik, and a few Sun Golds, a tropical-tasting orange cherry which has always been prolific but is shriveled and dying. Even the early yellow Taxi is slow, not a ripe one yet; by this time last year we had a colander’s worth. The top leaves of one of the Japanese Trifele tomatoes have dried and curled to parchment.
The eggplant has two aubergines but the flowers which promised more have disappeared. Both of the potted golden bell pepper plants on the front porch are yielding a solo pepper each, despite doses of Miracle-Gro. (At least the gypsy and Italian frying peppers are enough for one meal.) The cukes have developed a virus, turning leaves yellow and withering. Weeds are everywhere as are self-seedlings from plants I didn’t know could self-seed.
Fortunately one of the above woes is a delightful surprise and a summer science experiment. Bill loves petunias, especially deep purple Wave™ petunias, and hangs a basket of them at the corner of the garage every year. If I think about it, which I am now for the first time, petunias come from seed. You can buy them through catalogs or at a any garden center. Duh.
In this growing zone (which is either Zone 5 or 6 depending on which climate zone map you use), a greenhouse is necessary as petunias germinate best with a soil temp between 72 and 76 degrees. The experts warn that “soil temperature is critical.”
(Caution: When you look at the photo below, before you tsk tsk the condition of our pavement, please keep in mind that Bill and I have many charms. Fussing over asphalt is not one of them. Focus instead on the flowers.)
Wave Petunias are hybrids, which means that seed taken from them will not look or perform like the parent plant. We know this from high school science. And the flowers will usually revert to a mix of small white, lavender, and rose flowers. Exactly what the flowers in the photo are.
So these petunias must be Wave offspring. But how did they survive? Our winter temperatures range from 0 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Wouldn’t the cold kill them? Why are they growing in our driveway? This isn’t hospitable territory. They are nowhere else in the yard. Oh, sweet mystery of life.
We’re letting them grow and are careful to not crush them when dragging the hose around, or worse, driving over them. What the heck, they make us happy. It’s not important that they don’t conform to a plan, that they’re in an inconvenient place, or that they are silly. If gardening is like marriage, we need to be flexible, enjoy the unexpected, go with the flow.
This past week Bill and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. For the record: our marriage is faring much better than our garden.