That gardening works always takes me by surprise. I put these hard and cold and seemingly inert nuggets into dirt and, wondrously, plants happen. Black dirt turns green with sprouts. Flowers follow. Bees, birds and all manner of critters appear and get busy where before there was nobody doing much of anything. And in the case of vegetable gardening, food is the result of this miracle. This is unfailingly astonishing.
I guess most of us get so used to failure that it shocks us when something goes right. Gardening is such a sweetly seductive addiction, I think, primarily because it most often is successful. It may not turn out exactly as planned. It may generate frustrations and grueling labor along the way. But there is always a reward. What else in this culture pays off like planting a seed? What greater joy is there than watching life unfold and thinking with giddy pride, “I did that”!
Of course, I didn’t. At best, I was the transportation facilitator and maintenance manager. But it was my idea and my labor that began this garden where before there was nothing but frazzled grass. And every time I do this garden creation thing, I dance around in goofy rapture when life cooperates — mostly — with what I wanted to see in my world. Often it does better than I envisioned in completely unexpected ways.
For example, the groundhog annihilating the beans was a moment of sadness. Though, really, I got as much bean out of the mound as I ever do, or as I could want to eat… But still, leafless plants are depressing. Until I noticed that the basil was doing better than normal. Better than it does interplanted with thriving bean plants and much better than it does when not planted in the beans. It seems to have used the bean’s nitrogen-fixing root system even after the beans were defunct. And the lack of shade from leafy bean plants meant that the basil could use all that nitrogen to turn into veritable bushes of nascent pesto. And the plants are still growing strong. In Vermont, mind you!
Similarly, I have undead eggplant and chiles in the same de-beaned bed. This is the end of October, folks. We’ve had weeks of frost, enough to kill the nightshades and nearly everything else in other beds. But the tender plants in this mound are seemingly impervious to cold. They’re still putting out new flowers, new leaves and new luscious fruit. I have eggplants that will be baba ganoush for Halloween. Isn’t that too nutty!
The escarpment in front of my house is also out-performing all expectations. I anticipated several growing seasons before the perennials I planted began to out-compete the bullying quack grass and other aggressive weeds. But here we are just over a year into the project, and there are asters tumbling their purple exuberance down the slope and fairly vibrating with buzzing insects of all kinds. (Except butterflies… sadly, those have not appeared yet… ) Again, this is very late in the year to have so much activity in the garden. But this morning I took my camera out to capture the new sprouts in the cold frame bed and could hear the bees from yards away. I had to stand there for many minutes just watching them dancing about in the autumnal morning sunlight, doing their bee things.
The main beds of my veg garden are put to sleep for the winter, but it still looks compelling over there. The leaves from my neighbor’s maple create a lovely contrast with the cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums, marigolds and calendulas — all of which are still in flower. I still have bouquets if I want them… and being fluffy, I do. (I like to hollow out small pumpkins and use them as vases… ) The mulch that I put down as weed suppressant and insulation is also rather lovely with the white lace of morning frost on its dark and irregular surfaces. The garlic has not made an appearance yet, so I’ve got the row covers off for now. But there is something about a bed of clean soil that draws my eye — and my hopes. Maybe it’s the promise of food and flowers. Maybe it’s just the rich dark mystery of it all. But I like the beds in these weeks when the weeds aren’t rushing to take over every exposed bit of dirt and the rotting squash vines have been tidied away. I like the hopeful canvas a clean garden bed presents, I suppose.
I’m sure this St Luke’s Little Summer will be as brief as always. We’ve had more than one white Halloween since moving to New England, after all. But for now, I have undead eggplant and sprouting greens and a few hundred square feet of expectations and hopes for tomorrow.
And the sun is shining today.
Life is endlessly amazing, no!
©Elizabeth Anker 2022