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Sunday, March 29, 2009

How does your garden grow?

I am an ambitious person. I set goals and work towards them, but the end result, as a rule, is never what I expected. I don't have the foresight to pattern and plan; there is no method to my (relative) madness.

Case in point: The Garden.

Every year, I plan a humongous garden. I make my dad come till it up, and then I go buy hoses to water it, because every year I leave the hoses out and they freeze and burst. After I buy hoses, I buy tons and tons of seeds in every shape and variety.

Then I come home and lovingly plant my seeds, sprinkling them with diatomaceous earth (because I have a notion that we've got snails, but no evidence to think so) and then I cover them up with straw. I water and tend and wait patiently, pulling weeds and dreaming of my big fancy garden. As I sit in the sun, watching them grow, I can almost taste the tomatoes, warmed by the sun, and the sweet corn, and the squashes. In my mind, it is beautiful.

And then, it starts to get hot out, and I get tired, and I completely abandon my toddler plants. If they want water, they need to wait for it to rain. I justify this in my head - that's the way of the world, plants. Life is rough. Get used to it.

Then, in late summer, I go out to the garden and wade through the weeds and grass, and I am always surprised by what has managed to grow among the jumble of thistle and cocklebur. Last year I started tomatoes inside in paper cups, but when I set them outside to harden off, we got an unexpected heavy rain, and the little seedlings were completely waterlogged. Instead of trying to save them, I just tossed them out at the back of the garden and forgot about them. Late that season, the girls came running to me. "Tomatoes, Mama!" they cried, and sure enough, out at the back of the garden were twelve of the biggest, strongest, healthiest tomato plants I had ever seen. Turns out, tomatoes really like neglect - at least, little cherry tomatoes do. They were tasty little guys too, and the girls spent many afternoons sitting out there with a salt shaker, tomato juice running down their chins and grand fairy tales running through their heads.

The sweet corn never has worked out for me. Sweet corn doesn't really mind neglect, but every year I get this weird fungus, and the kernels swell up and turn black, like this. I am told this is a delicacy in some cultures, but they can keep it. It looks like alien corn and there is no way I'm touching it, let alone eating it. I just let it dry on the stalk and then I fancy I'll burn it, but I never do, because like I said, I'm not so good at the carry-through. My burn pile is at least ten feet tall and has been growing for years, and I suspect it'll continue to grow, because now it's so big that I'm afraid to set match to it.

I think my neighbors must think we are the strangest people int he world. There's only a few houses on our road, and they all have beautifully manicured lawns - you know, the kind with underground sprinkling and perfect lines mowed into them. And every year the little white flags go up, reminding everyone not to touch the grass, because it's been fertilized.
And then, there's my house. The grass is almost always waist high, except for a patch on the west side of the house, where the kids play. There's a huge bramble bush at the bottom of the hill (our house is at the top of the hill) and my neighbor has offered to remove it time and time again, but the rabbits live there, and I can't bring myself to do it. On the east side of the house is a giant pile of crap - refrigerators without doors, broken lawnmowers, a bike with only one wheel, air conditioners... the list goes on and on. This is where tall grass comes in handy.

So it's fitting that The Garden ends up just the same as the rest of the house. I don't mind an air of neglect - in fact, I rather relish it - and to be honest, I think my children have a much better time than their city-bred counterparts - running barefoot in tall, sweet alfalfa and finding treasures in the grasses, with no worry of chemicals or abductions or bullies.

We do have cougars though...

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