Get­ting some gar­den­ing done

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

Walks are a fun di­ver­sion in our fam­ily. My daugh­ters have al­ways got­ten a kick out of ur­ban ex­plo­ration and we like to keep an eye on what’s go­ing on in the neigh­bor­hood. When my old­est daugh­ter no­ticed that an el­derly neigh­bor’s gar­den went un­used and un­kempt for sev­eral years in a row, she came up with the idea to plant flow­ers as a sur­prise.

No mat­ter how well-in­ten­tioned, I ex­plained, you can’t plant an­other per­son’s gar­den with­out per­mis­sion. So, she mus­tered up the courage and rang the door­bell, which took quite a bit of mus­ter­ing be­cause the man who lives there re­minds me a lot of the old man in Home Alone crossed with Griz­zly Adams.

After get­ting the green light to go ahead with her plan, we stopped by the gar­den cen­ter and picked up a plethora of pretty flow­ers to fill the gar­den, enough for both his and ours. The fol­low­ing week­end we pushed our wheel­bar­row full of sup­plies down the street to our neigh­bor’s house and my daugh­ter spent a few happy hours dig­ging in the dirt, leav­ing the gar­den neat and tidy, with scores of di­anthus and be­go­nias rooted in freshly turned dirt.

I re­mem­ber the date ex­actly, be­cause we hap­pened to lose track of time while gar­den­ing — a com­mon side ef­fect of hav­ing a good time outdoors — and were late to my own daugh­ter’s birth­day party that af­ter­noon. We stowed the left­over flow­ers in the back­yard, to be planted an­other day in our own gar­den.

I never found the time to plant them. They sat un­touched in the back­yard while we tended to other, more im­por­tant, gar­den­ing mat­ters. We are se­ri­ous gar­den­ers and don’t have a lot of time for su­per­flu­ous plants with names like can­dytuft and rasp­berry par­fait. At our house, flow­ers are just a pretty af­ter­thought.

We grow veg­eta­bles from seed. My daugh­ter car­ries around the var­i­ous seed cat­a­logs for weeks in win­ter, dog-ear­ring the pages of no­table va­ri­eties she wants to try. I’ve found her on more than one oc­ca­sion, late at night, asleep in bed with a seed cat­a­log laid open across her chest, while she’s prob­a­bly dream­ing of the sum­mer sun­shine and pat­ty­pan squash and cherry toma­toes.

We start our seeds in the spring at the first hint of warmer weather and har­den them off well be­fore the dan­ger of frost has passed be­cause we like to live boldly, but also be­cause we just can’t wait to taste the first tomato of the sea­son. My daugh­ter re­minds me nearly daily how a mas­ter gar­dener at one of her sum­mer camps once told her that a good gar­dener can grow a ripe tomato be­fore the Fourth of July. We grew two, ac­tu­ally, if you are keep­ing count (she is, ap­par­ently).

My bed­room win­dow over­looks the back­yard where the gar­den and bird­feed­ers are. I spend a few min­utes each

morn­ing gaz­ing out over our do­main. Those min­utes are usu­ally re­lax­ing as I watch birds flit about the yard or squir­rels try­ing to find a dropped morsel un­der one of the bird­feed­ers. Nor­mally I en­joy tak­ing stock of the yard, but this past spring I had a hard time look­ing out there. It was not look­ing good.

We have a small patch of rasp­ber­ries that I like to think are the de­scen­dants of a her­itage rasp­berry bush I planted back when we first moved to this house and I didn’t have much gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m not sure ex­actly where it was planted, but it was in the gen­eral vicin­ity of the rasp­berry patch we have now.

These rasp­ber­ries bear only one sum­mer crop, pack quite a punch of seeds and look and taste ex­actly like the wild rasp­ber­ries that grow all along the road­sides in the more ru­ral parts of St. Mary’s County I’m fairly cer­tain they are just run-of-the-mill wild rasp­ber­ries, but we en­joy them im­mensely nonethe­less.

Last year I didn’t get much of a chance to work in the gar­den. I can’t even re­mem­ber if we planted any­thing at all, as those months were a blur. After my dad died in June, you’d think I might im­merse my­self in some kind of ac­tiv­ity, like gar­den­ing, to keep my mind off my grief. But as it turned out, I’d had a baby two months ear­lier and was al­ready so busy with four kids that there wasn’t much time for griev­ing or gar­den­ing.

Even with com­plete ne­glect, that lit­tle patch of rasp­berry canes be­came crowded. The canes started to arch over and wher­ever the tips touched the ground, new canes sprouted. They took root in the raised beds of my veg­etable gar­den and spread across the walk­ing path to the other side. When I looked out my bed­room win­dow, the gar­den looked over­grown and messy, a metaphor for how I was feel­ing in my own life.

I knew the rasp­ber­ries had to be culled, but I couldn’t quite bring my­self to do it. Ev­ery time I looked at the gar­den I was re­minded how dis­or­derly and out of control it had be­come. When it was fi­nally ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, I spent a few hours one morn­ing dig­ging out the worst of­fend­ers from the raised beds so we could plant our veg­etable seedlings that were ready to be trans­planted.

This sum­mer we had a record crop of rasp­ber­ries, thanks to all the ex­tra canes that grew last sum­mer. Even though our hi­bis­cus is nearly shrouded by thorny canes and you can’t walk down the path with­out get­ting some prick­les in your an­kle, it’s turned out bet­ter than ex­pected. Not a sin­gle one of those rasp­ber­ries has made it into the house. In­stead, my kids and hus­band pick them by the hand­ful and eat them right there in the back­yard. Even the baby points to the rasp­berry patch and ex­pects some­one to pick her a few.

We ate the last of the ber­ries this past week­end, and then I spent Sun­day morn­ing pruning back the canes and dig­ging up the ex­tras, to be planted some­where else in the back­yard this fall. And, even though it took two months to get those flow­ers we bought back in April into the ground, they are planted and mulched and the gar­den is look­ing neat and tidy once again.

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