We’ve our first snow of the season which means I suppose that it’s about time that I wrote about the garden. Now that I’ve got a little distance on the matter, I mean.

I think I’ve made it clear that I’m not a natural gardener. I want to be a gardener. I like the idea of being a gardener. I read books about being a gardener. I read chapters one and two, which are about how wonderful it feels to raise one’s own food and then demonstrate how you can grow enough food in two square feet of space to feed a family of four once you know all the secret gardening handshakes and planting methods. I love chapters one and two. When I read chapters one and two I get preemptively drunk on excitement about how I am finally going to do this. I’m going to be a gardener!

Then I get to chapter three. Chapter three starts getting a bit detailed. Chapter three starts discussing things like soil composition, crop rotation and compost moisture and I’m hanging in there okay, I really am, until I get to the part about nitrogen levels.  It’s the nitrogen levels that get me.  As soon as I see it, I know I am doomed.  Immediately after the nitrogen levels, the words start blurring together and I get very confused.  Then I get frustrated and I usually start whining about how haaaaard it all iiiiiis.  And that’s the end of that.  I never make it chapter four and I never make it to the garden.

Back sometime this spring, I was whining this exact chapter three whine to my friend Amy, who happens to be a tremendous gardener. I got to the part about the nitrogen and how annoyed I was that this gardening thing was so hard and she started shaking her head.  Then she flipped over a piece of paper (that may or may not have been an agenda for the meeting we were supposed to be paying attention to; I’ll never tell) and drew this:

Can you see that? The scan isn’t great.  Basically, her gist is this: newspaper layer on the bottom, dirt/sand/compost mix in the middle, hay or seaweed mulch on top.  Rocks and landscape fabric to keep it all contained.  Then, the best part, “Stick plants in here.”  And underneath: “This would be a very short book.”  Indeed.  (Most of the rest of that is about how to repel deer.  Amy tried something called Deer Scram but now has a battery-powered electric fence, which she claims is really the only thing that works this side of a shotgun.) (I made up that last part.)

It’s the lifelong curse of an English major to forever find meaning and metaphor in the simplest of meeting doodles. So I brought that drawing home and immediately put it up on the side of the refrigerator.  It became my garden inspiration. Whenever I got overwhelmed by nitrogen details, I would look at Amy’s drawing and say to myself, “Just stick the plants in the ground.”  I looked at it when Michael and I cut down some trees to give our wooded lot more light.  Enough light?  It doesn’t matter, because all I’m going to do is stick plants in the ground.  Did I lay out the garden correctly according to proper companion plant rules?  Don’t care, stick plants in the ground. Am I supposed to be adding compost or mulch or something else?  The plants won’t care, just stick them in the ground.

Shockingly, given this kind of tender love and concern, the garden didn’t do spectacularly.  Some things did very well.  The beans were plentiful.  We ate patty pan squash multiple times a week for months.  We hauled in nine pumpkins, the frozen innards of which are now fighting the half-a-pig for space in the chest freezer.  Other things, not so much.  The peas were skimpy because I stupidly planted the tomatoes in front of them.  The carrots and beets were good but never sized up past tiny.  The tomato plants were loaded with fruit, which stayed green for weeks.  Once they finally turned, a couple rogue chickens that kept escaping made them a constant snack and then they got the blight.  The broccoli never made it past a good idea.

In other words, it wasn’t a huge, embarrassing  failure, but it didn’t challenge my perception of my gardening incompetence, either.

This fall, I decided to move the crocus and narcissus bulbs from their former bed.  Due to some poor planning, I had planted them directly under the spot where our plow guy dumps all the snow from the driveway, and the resulting eight foot snowbank had an annoying tendency to not melt until July.  So I decided to move them to another bed, one that Sam and I had excavated back in the spring, he using a spoon because I didn’t own a trowel.  The kids and I dug the bulbs up from the snowbank bed, with Sam again using a spoon because I STILL haven’t bought a trowel, and relocated them to the new bed.  It wasn’t an easy job.  Despite having excavated a truckload of rocks during the original dig, I still struck plenty in my search for bulbs.  I also struggled mightily with the narcissus bulbs, which I seemed capable of finding only by driving the shovel blade directly through their heart.  Replanting them wasn’t much easier, especially since I had more bulbs than space and by the end had resorted to simply digging a trench (more rocks!), chucking bulbs in, and throwing some dirt on top.  It was a scene that, just a short bit ago, would have had me swearing and fretting and complaining mightily.  In fact, that pretty much was my reaction last fall when I put them in.  Would they grow? Would they fail? Would I fail? Would my entire gardening future be undone by a bunch of crocus bulbs?

But this time I wasn’t worried.  I was sticking the plants in the dirt and something would happen.  It might not be what I intended to happen.  It might not be what I wanted to happen.  But something would, indeed, happen.  I’m okay with that.

I may be becoming a gardener after all.

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