the cool of the evening

June 22, 2012

It’s been very busy in the garden, so much that we have got behind blogging. On Tuesday I was working in the garden for 5 hours in the morning and another hour or so in the evening. I’d just finished fertilizing, and the fireflies were flicking on and off as the fairy lights began to come on, and I was overwhelmed with the garden-ness of everything.

And for a minute I felt I could see the place through M’s eyes, and I thought how proud he would be of the garden and how far it has come, and of me for all the work I’ve done and all the things I’ve done that I didn’t know how to do. None of the garden would be there if he hadn’t begun it and seen in it what it could be, before I could see anything, when I thought nothing would grow.

M died a few weeks after he’d planted the grape vine and the 2008 tomato seedlings. It’s a miracle that I picked up the gardening at all; it was so grievous to go out there, to his space. I have my father to thank for spurring me to do it that first summer. Just before he left town after the funeral weeks, he turned to me in that advice-giving-father way and told me to keep the garden. Gardening was good for the soul, he said. I don’t believe my father has ever gardened in his life, but he knew this was true and he impressed it on me. He was right. Thanks, Dad.

The garden wouldn’t be what it is without the help of friends, for example the gurus at Crest–who make getting and trying new things so easy, who dispense advice on tap, who love their plants and yet are relaxed and realistic about endeavors, whose constant creative experiments cheer me up and give me new ideas, who build me up by enjoying the successes in my garden, and who are wonderful friends over the wall all year round.

The garden also thanks John and Mary, my friends from England, who have a spectacular English garden of their own that I can only dream about. They built the grape arbor one winter, and they did all the heavy work on the renovation of the center perennial garden two Septembers ago. There have been so many helpers, weeders, diggers when my elbow was fractured, waterers, harvesters, advice givers, appreciators–I can’t name them all here, but thank you.

In the cool of the evening, watering done, fireflies and fairy lights popping on, I always think of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, that ancient and only time we walked freely with him before everything went wrong.

death tolerance

July 3, 2011

One of the worst things about growing stuff is having to deal with the fact that some things die. It might be something you did, but just as often it’s the conditions or the location. If you’re going to enjoy the miracle of things making it through a winter like this:

Then you have to deal with things that you love failing to thrive. I do not like dealing with this. I think it is a swiz.

One of the most vigorous, prolific plants in my garden is the grape vine. M planted it as a little stick from Crest Hardware a few weeks before he died. Last summer it moved up onto a pergola some friends built for me.

Even in the burning heat of July 2010, it produced over 35 pounds of grapes–green, seedless, sweet, crush-against-the-roof-of-your-mouth.

This spring and summer, it has continued to go hog-wild, despite strong pruning.
Grapes appeared everywhere, to the point that I began to feel a little panicked about how I would harvest them all. Finally I decided I would have a grape-picking party and invite everyone I knew. People could bring containers, clippers, ladders, beers, whatever. Everyone would get grapes, and I wouldn’t have to do all the work. Now all I had to do was wait for the grapes to ripen. Problem solved!

Except two weeks ago I noticed that a few grapes had shriveled. I began to feel a deep secret dread that my grapes had some kind of rot. It took me almost a week to make myself go out there and actually examine them. Sure enough, they have a fungal problem.
Trying not to freak out, I consulted the internets, but most of what I read was targeted towards vineyards and thus was overkill for a one-vine home grower like me. Finally, I consulted the gurus at Crest.

Should I cut off all the infected grape bunches?! I asked. Guru Vincent didn’t think much of this idea. He suggested I just leave them alone and salvage what I could at harvest. It was the warm, damp weather, he said. Even if I cut off every bit of fungus I could find, there was nothing saying more wouldn’t grow if conditions favored it. But maybe, he said, the weather would improve, and then some grapes would make it. I’m a pretty lazy gardener, he confessed. I’d just leave it.

I consulted Guru Regina, and she concurred. You can’t fight the weather, she reasoned. I stood with Regina beside the gaffer tape and summarized: So, I said, you’re saying I should just let the grapes be, watching some die and hoping death won’t overcome all of them?

Pretty much, Regina said.

So, I clarified, this is a DEATH TOLERANCE exercise?

Pretty much, Regina said.

If I had know my garden was going to give me a Death Tolerance exercise this summer, I woulda… well I woulda told it where to go! I woulda kicked it with my boots and showed it who was boss! And then…! I guess it woulda done what it was going to do anyway.

in the middle of things

June 25, 2011

Few things in life have a definite start. As for chronicling a garden, where can you begin? Late winter, probably, with the garlic and chives that poke up even before the bulbs. But then, the things that come up in March had their start the previous autumn. Even the seeds you put in the pop-up peat pellets came from another year’s plant. As for the garden itself, what state would you consider tabula rasa?

When I first moved here in 1994, the backyard had no exposed soil, but the previous tenant (longtime, owner, lately deceased) had grown tomatoes in large wooden containers. It’s an Italian neighborhood, and the yard has a hot, Mediterranean southern exposure. At that time, some of the upstairs tenants (Poles) were growing flowers in boxes out back. They used to call in my kitchen window to me when they were out watering which was…friendly, if slightly invasive. A few years later, my husband and I bought the building and renovated the yard by digging up some of the concrete. The exposed soil was rocky, urban, and unpromising. My husband (M) tested the soil with a ph kit from the hardware store next door and announced that we had to wait a couple of years for the soil to rinse. When it finally came time to plant things, I thought it looked like some vacant lot. “Nothing is going to grow in that crappy soil!” I told him. He gave me his stern, English look and said: “Shush. Wait.” That season we had tomatoes, herbs, beans… was that the start?

I could narrate the evolution of the garden all day (and maybe in a later post I will), but we are living here in today. Today is the 25th of June, 2011. Today my husband has been dead 1,137 days. Today there are fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight. Today I ate the first tomato of the season, a yellow cherry. Today is the day the Lord made; in the middle of things, a kind of rejoicing, a shoot perhaps of glad.