Getting some gardening done
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.