Around Mother’s Day this spring Handsome took me on a veggie and seeds shopping spree. He sneakily drove me to a hardware store about fifteen miles away, wheeled a cart up to me and said, “Go for it! Grow me somethin, woman!”
I took a deep breath. My eyes were big and glassy as we cruised the aisles of tiny green promises. He helped me choose the leafiest, strongest looking tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, sweet potato, and watermelon plants. And zucchini and squash. And hot peppers.
Then we went inside and scooped up several million packets of seeds for summer flowers, herbs, and a few late lettuces. The earth at home was plenty warm enough by May, and I had been composting all winter. Most luxuriously, Handsome had already tilled the majority of my garden plot, so I was not fazed by this gargantuan purchase.
We were ready, baby, MORE than ready. And the clock was a tickin’.
Within a few days every single seedling was tucked neatly into the soil. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most shapely or creative layout I’d ever planted, but it was full to bursting with edible potential. I felt that what it lacked in design could be compensated for by volume. The Lazy W Garden 2011 had the potential to be my most prolific yet, and I. Was. Happy.
Fast foward about a month. The mild spring weather turned suddenly and unpleasantly to a record setting Oklahoma summer. After growing for just a few safe weeks, my green babies were dying a fearsome death.
The previously lush pumpkin and squash vines were rotting in the sun. The sweet potato leaves were turning a lovely but dangerous shade of bronze. The pepper plants were emaciated almost beyond recognition. I can barely stand to talk about the basil and clematis.
I tried mulching and watering and sort of weeding, but the truth is that in the midst of the heat wave I had far more pressing issues at hand than the out-of-the-way veggie garden. I had to keep the animals cooled and watered twice a day, and I needed to work on my tan before our big anniversary vacation. You know, important stuff.
So as we packed for that trip in mid July, I silently resigned to the likelihood of returning home to a cemetary of vitamin ambitions. There were more than a few tears. Acknowledging this big of a failure is painful, but I did have a pretty respectable base tan. So there’s that.
Everything you might imagine about how a garden suffers in more than fifty consecutive days of one hundred-degree-plus heat, and a drought with the power to shrink lakes, all those horrible things are true. And I feel terrible about it. But there are lessons to share and hope to celebrate.
Here is what I have learned: In addition to being realistic in your garden planning (ahem), it seems to be really important to make your garden at least inviting enough to draw you there and tempt you to stay. It doesn’t have to be English knot garden perfect, but when I planted after Mother’s Day, I did so hurriedly. With precious little shape or pattern, all mess and zero fractals.
A certain amount of chaos is exciting, but vast expanses of weeds and constant formlessness can drain the gardener’s spirit. It made me feel like no amount of work I could possibly do there would help. I never wanted friends, family, or
especially even Handsome to see it, that is fo’ sho’. That’s not an excuse, just an acknowledgement of my human nature. Beauty matters. Even if it’s truly wild beauty, we all crave it deep down on a cellular level, and where it is lacking we tend to want to escape. Agreed?
That is the philisophical lesson from this summer. I pinky-promised myself to do better next season.
The pratical lesson is that planting things too far apart (like I did) can be painfully challenging for the plants. It’s actaully groovy to plant pretty closely together. The plants shade each other and help each other retain soil and moisture, too. And if you plant stategically you can naturally eliminate lots of pests. MARIGOLDS.
So where are my few survivors? They are in Veggie Triage. It’s a three-step healing process consisting of reduction (of both overall population and individual plant size), relocation, and rejuvenation.
I have moved the surviving plants from the remote garden up to the flower beds on the east and south sides of the house. The rationale is that the attractiveness of the flower bed will encourage me to spend more time tending the edibles. The flower beds had space to fill anyway, so here again we have symbiosis in nature.
I have already seen marked improvements in every single little baby, and I feel confident that in the coming weeks we can add seed plants like lettuce and spinach, then later on some broccoli, cilantro, etc, to really fill in the blanks.
Green thumbs up, friends. I do NOT want to give up completely on Lazy W Garden 2011. With a little luck and the logic and magic of these two lessons learned, we might be frying green tomatoes by Labor Day.