Around the Garden

150 150 Kristin
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Dear Frances,

It’s nearly June and I don’t think we have discussed gardening plans this year. I know that for a lot of the country, gardening season really kicks in around Memorial Day, but if I were more disciplined, I could really get started in March. In fact, back when Chloe was little, we often spent the weekends in March getting the backyard in order, so that we could host a birthday party there. It was a good incentive!

For many years, spring meant we’d get serious about weeding, mulching, freshening up the planters, and most importantly–putting in the vegetable garden. I grew up with a big veggie garden and lots of fruit trees in the backyard. So, when we bought this house, I was so excited to have a real garden! I obsessively watched Gardening Naturally while I was an apartment dweller and could not wait to get my hands into some dirt.

We’ve had some pretty prolific gardens over the years–our most successful ones built on the Square Foot Gardening method. But somewhere over the last five years or so, our attempts have been pitiful. The troubles have run the gamut from plants simply not producing to constant battling of the birds and squirrels.

So last year I pivoted and declared the vegetable garden to be a cutting garden for flowers. I watched videos and read books, and started seeds. Then the California drought and watering restrictions foiled my plans. So we let it go, as well as basically the whole backyard. We just kept the planters barely alive. We knew we needed a new plan moving forward—but didn’t want to deal with it.

We are still in a holding pattern this year, but I’m getting the itch to pop on over to Home Depot and pick up a few tomato plants and just put them in some large pots. I refuse to go another summer without a homegrown tomato! The blackberries are looking pretty good, so hopefully we will have that to look forward to in late June and early July. It was hard to keep up with them last year without the whole family to stand in the garden eating them off the vine every evening.

The truth is, I’m more of an aspirational gardener. I want to live like Beatrix Potter or Tasha Tudor, but not really willing to do the work. I’m more of a plan and plant girl. The boring maintenance part falls to my husband (which he doesn’t appreciate). I am hoping that now that every Saturday doesn’t revolve around getting three kids to three separate activities, I might spend more time in the garden. We’ll see.

As we decide the fate of the yard, I’m trying to appreciate the little areas of blooms that brighten my day. Bachelor buttons and nasturtiums have reseeded themselves this year—a pleasant surprise! The alstroemerias, as usual, are in fine form. And right now is peak yarrow time. As a whole, the yard doesn’t look too bad. Get closer and it’s a wreck. Get closer still and you just see the flowers. That’s where I’m looking.

xo, Kristin

Dear Kristin,

Here in central North Carolina, a lot of people get out into their gardens in mid-April. But we’ve had an unusually chilly spring, and I haven’t really been bit by the garden bug yet. Of course, the tomatoes were planted in April (our last frost date is April 15) because we are tomato fiends and don’t wait for inspiration to get our plants into the ground. But the basil seeds I bought back in March have yet to be sowed, nor have the marigolds.

Like you, I sometimes think I’m more of an aspirational gardener than a true blue love-to-get-my-hands-in-the-dirt type. I love reading about gardening and dream about having a huge flower garden one day (though I’m sobered by what happened to you last summer!). Will that ever happen? I’m not sure. I’m a notional and somewhat whimsical creature. If the spirit doesn’t move me to do something, whether it’s plant a garden or mop the kitchen, then I have a very hard time making myself do it. Any discipline I have goes into my daily writing practice.

I remember years ago, my father told me the best use of my garden dollars was investing in perennials, and every year when the hostas emerge from our little side door garden, I can’t help but agree. It’s not just that I don’t have to run out to Lowes every spring to buy more hostas; it’s also that I don’t have to do any work for the hostas to grow. They do all the work themselves! Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve caught Garden Fever or not. I can be stone cold uninspired and the hostas show up anyway.

The hostas say hello!

The same is true for our blueberry bushes, which Clifton planted 8 or 9 or so years ago. We’ve got 10 or so of them out in the backyard, and every year they start pushing out berries without me having to lift a finger (Clifton prunes them annually, so there’s a little bit of work involved to keep them maintained). Earlier this spring, we planted six blackberry bushes (we = Clifton), which should start producing in two years.

So now I’m thinking about what other perennials we (Clifton) might plant. But here’s the bigger thing I’ve been thinking about: how some projects can take a long time and that’s okay. This has been on my mind recently because I’ve been very focused on decluttering for the last few weeks. I’m starting to see how the work that I did last summer has paid off; how I’m making much faster progress now because I got rid of a lot of stuff then. In the same way, whatever work we do in the garden each year (and I do actually contribute to this work, though like Gary, Clifton does more of the maintenance stuff) pays off the next year and the year after that. Because our dirt is mostly made up of red clay, we’ve done a lot of soil amending over the last decade, and sometimes it can be surprising to dig into the earth and find black, loamy dirt filled with wriggling worms. Where did that come from? Well, it came from lots of compost and cow manure and letting the ground lie fallow for a couple of years.

My plan is the next time I feel overwhelmed by the desire to garden is to plant something that will bloom next year and the year after that. I’ve pondered planting peach trees in the front yard (I haven’t mentioned this plan to Clifton yet; I need to do some research before I do; also I probably need to buy him a new shovel–ha!). I’ve wondered about growing grapes. I love annuals–and sooner or later, I will get my basil and marigold seeds planted!–but I wonder if my time and energy is better spent on plants that will continue to grow year after year with only minimal inputs from this lazy gardener.


P.S. Hello readers! Thank you for your great comments–I love reading them, and I know Kristin does too! Here’s a question for you: what topics would you like us to write (or podcast) about? Let us know!