Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Garden's Lament

This is my garden. From a distance, it doesn't look so bad.

But up close it is revealed to be a woefully neglected place.

It is overrun with weeds. Plants have collapsed like drunkards; they are untended, their fruits unharvested. Those that have not given up and vanished altogether might appear to have fallen off their supports, but the truth is that I am not sure I ever got around to putting them on their supports in the first place. I have been a lazy gardener.

I begin every year with such fine intentions. I will weed and dig earlier, select my plants wisely, and plant them on time. I love this part of gardening, where we go from quietly resting garden beds to a clean, raked, freshly planted garden. There is so much promise. So much belief in what the future will bring. My children help weed and rake and choose plants and we talk about what we'll do with our harvest. But in between the planting and the harvesting comes the part that stomps all over me every year. Weeding. Watering. Tending. Nurturing. The energy of spring and the promise of my garden are usually enough to carry me through the first round of weeding. But then come July and August, those awkward teenage months for the garden. My plants are not sweet young things any more and neither are their weeds, which have gone from minor nuisances manageable with a hoe to stubborn problems requiring hours with the garden fork. As the plants become bigger and wilder, I stay away for longer. It's too much responsibility. Then some of them start producing food and I'm OBLIGATED to do something with them. Pick the little buggers. Clean them and add them to dinner. Or preserve the little stinkers. I resent them for their claim on my time and energy. And then I feel guilty. I have neglected my poor little garden. Failed to fully seize the opportunity to produce wholesome food for my family. Failed to live up to my dreams for this year. I am afraid that my garden is not just a bunch of plants in the dirt, but an illustration of my flaws and failures.

This year was a particularly bad gardening year for me. After one round of aggressive weeding in June, I barely set foot in the garden for the rest of the summer. We ate a few cukes and tomatoes, but left most of them to rot in place. We picked a few eggplants and beans, but they sat on the kitchen counter waiting for me to cook them and finally ended up in the compost bin. The melons were ignored completely; we didn't taste even one of them. And once again I failed to trellis my peas early enough to keep them from being overtaken by the beans.

There are still a few bright spots. The sunflowers grew beautifully. The birds have eaten some of the seed, but there are still 5 or 6 flowers that haven't given up their seeds yet.

Although the peppers were nowhere near as abundant as last year, we do have some. This includes a bumper crop of hot peppers, although I can't imagine why I bought them since we never eat them.

Isabel opened a few of the bean pods. I have no idea what to do with the dried beans, but at least they are pretty.

The gardening season is pretty much over here, but I just can't bring myself to clean out the garden yet. I haven't decided whether this is optimism or plain laziness at work. The funny thing is that my favorite time is when we put the garden to bed. After all that rampant vegetation, the garden looks so peaceful when it is clean and raked and waiting for a new season. The chaos recedes and the promise begins to shine through again. I can look at it and believe that I will do better next year, just like I can look at my freshly bathed three-year old as he sleeps and believe that tomorrow I'll be a better mommy.

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