Lessons from the Garden

The garden begins, 5/25/13.

So, we got a yard.  We also got a house, but the focus of this post is the yard.

I’m not a fan of gardening.  I have many a memory of pulling weeds as a kid, and they are not happy memories.  They involved getting dirty and having sore knees and running the risk of being spotted by a classmate while doing something as dorky as weeding.

Now, though, we have a yard, and we’re darn proud of it.  It’s small and the soil is basically just clay, but we’re determined to make things grow from it that aren’t blackberries.  We’re also attempting another container garden, since last year’s went pretty well.

We planted the containers last May and added a few things to the yard in the ensuing weeks: ornamental grass, some lavender, and a California lilac.  Since then, the weather has fluctuated from 65 and rainy to the mid-90s.  Some of the plants are handling it than others (see: the dead jalapeno), but sooner or later (right?), the weather will level out (right?!) and then all of our plants will be happy.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far from gardening:

1. Don’t micromanage. Our basil looked like it grew 30% overnight when we first planted it, and our tomato is flourishing despite having its stem bend and break near the top.  When the jalapeno started looking sickly, though, we wound up over-watering it and uh killed it.

Some plants need a lot of attention, but most don’t.  Make sure it gets enough water and most plants will pretty much take care of themselves.

Likewise, lots of things in my life could do without me micromanaging.  The dishwasher doesn’t need to be unloaded in a particular way – as long as the dishes get back in the cupboards, that’s good enough.

2. Do your research first.  I wanted to plant lavender along one fence for a few reasons: bees love it, it smells pretty, and it reminds me of southern France.  There’s a house in our neighborhood that had some growing out front (the new occupants tore it all out, what), so I figured it would be worth a try.  Lavender grows in England, so it should survive pretty well here, right?

Turns out with bought Spanish lavender.  Probably not our best decision ever.

Any kind of lavender will need to be pruned, mulched in the winter, and protected from strong wind.  Our clay soil is probably not going to drain very well, and lavender’s ability to resist drought doesn’t do it many favors here.  Still, we got some, we planted it, and we’re prepared to take care of it.  Hopefully.

I really don’t know why we didn’t get English lavender.

Anyway, I embarked on my latest home-improvement project, which is to swap out the torn-up rice paper in our three-part screen with gold paper.  I probably should have made a plan first, but instead, I dove right in, and discovered that each rectangle of rice paper is going to have to be cut out individually – and there are over a hundred.  This is going to be a much longer project than I anticipated.

3. Set small goals.  If I tried to weed the entire yard, even just the front or back, I would die crying from heat exhaustion, sore knees, and frustration.  Our new development and crummy soil means we get a lot of weeds.  They’re never gone for long, and if we’re not organized about how we tackle them, we’ll wear ourselves out.  So, when we weed, we focus on making just one section of the yard absolutely gorgeous.  Then we gaze at it for a while and go back inside, and the next day, we’re ready to take on another portion of the yard.

Likewise, we think small when we plan our container garden.  We don’t have a lot of space and we’re not expert gardeners, so we know better than to plant tons of vegetables.  For example, last year our arugula went feral because we didn’t eat it often enough.

Now, in order to keep from going crazy over this three-part screen that I so brilliantly decided to start chopping up, I need to set some goals.  If I take ten minutes every day and cut out two or three rows of rectangles, I’ll be done in a couple days, and then the final stage – gluing on the new paper – will take no time at all.

4. Keep trying new things.  I’ve discovered that it’s not really weeding that I hate so much – it’s clover.  Clover’s a jerk.  It detaches from its roots with deceptive ease, and the roots themselves are widespread and deep.  Other weeds come up fairly easily, but clover always puts up a fight.  This means weeding is approximately 60% less annoying than I’d previously thought.

I’m discovering that there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with uprooting living organisms with your bare hands.  I’m beginning to spot the tiny beginnings of blackberry sprouts, and every time I pull one up, I do a Xena-ish victory cry in my head.  (If it’s not a problem in your area, you should know that the Northwest rents out goats to get rid of blackberry bushes.  They’re that obnoxious.  If you don’t get them when they’re less than three inches tall, you’re not getting them out with anything short of nuclear fire.)

Even more satisfying than the primal pleasure of ending small forms of plant life is the beautiful, bare expanse of bark you’re left with at the end.

One of the plants we included in our container garden was actually inspired by a dish I tried for the first time last summer: roasted poblano pepper in mole sauce.  It was served for breakfast at the bed & breakfast we stayed at for our anniversary in Hood River, and while I wouldn’t normally have picked a dish like that (especially not for breakfast), I didn’t have much of a choice – and it was delicious!  The jalapeno may have died, but the poblano we planted is lookin’ perky and just starting to bud.  Once it produces a couple peppers, I’ll get to attempt a mole sauce!

5. Be observant.  The basil is the most communicative plant, like, ever.  If it’s feeling a little dry, it’ll droop gently and mope at you until you give it a sprinkle.  If it’s seriously dehydrated, it’ll shrivel and look kinda crispy.  An hour or so after watering, though, poof!  Back to normal, healthy, lush, and green.

If you’d told me at age fourteen that one day I’d be in the top 10% of “twentysomethings who have it together,” I probable would have laughed at you.  But hey, look at me now!  I’m employed, with enough time to write on the side.  I’m married.  I maintain a house and a garden.  I cook regularly.  I commit to things and I keep my commitments.  I’ve completed a book draft and am working on edits and the sequel.  I plan things more than a week in advance.  I’m not in debt.  I rarely run out of milk, cat food, etc.  And it’s because I finally started paying attention.

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As of 7/1/2013

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