Well Intended / Fits and stops along the garden path
Perhaps one of the best parts of vegetable gardening is the complete reset that is possible each and every spring.
Full-disclosure: I'm on weed-probation at the Westport Community Gardens.
Before you think those in charge of issuing weed warnings and revoking gardening privileges are too exacting, I should confess the state of my plot by August. It was virtually a mini-meadowland of cosmos and lettuce gone to seed, along with what I like to call indigenous species.
Some of the gardeners refer to these indigenous species as weeds and were not delighted that a gentle breeze might plant their tidy rows with the air-born progeny of my neglect.
Last April, I was overcome with the same ambitious gardening optimism that I am every year.
I transplanted strawberries. I started tomatoes. I sewed seeds and spaced the onions out neatly. But then, life got a little more complicated than planned.
The kids needed more attention than anticipated. We moved. The interruptions of unanticipated challenges of raising children and progressing with life eclipsed the joy I take in the garden.
When I did visit my plot to gather herbs or dig up some shallots, I was amazed at the tenacity of life. Even with my neglect, plants want to grow. The rain must have fallen enough to allow seeds to sprout and thrive, and there were flowers, though crowded by uninvited nature, to pick on low afternoons that brightened our family dinner table.
It wasn't that I didn't want to garden last summer. I did. But, it wasn't my priority. I had to get things sorted out for the children, first. And, I knew the soil would wait.
As the summer progressed and the weed-warnings mounted, I began to time my visits when I thought no one would be there. I didn't want to get caught by an organized gardener, rummaging through my raucous plot.
This gardening-anxiety was of course, more about my thoughts of what others might think of me, than what I thought of myself. I could forgive myself for my horticultural negligence, because I had been present for the matters that were priorities to me. My children took precedence over carrots.
I looked for rainy days to try to catch up as my weed infraction warning notices started to mount.
When the soil was muddied and the sky sodden, I could yank weeds and attempt to catch up.
The peace I usually find in the garden was overshadowed by a swelling sense of failure. It became an obligation.
I don't have my own garden at home. But I used to. I loved dividing perennials and building a garden over time. There was something magical to me about knowing that the land and I belonged to each other and that I could nurture rhizomes and bulbs, roots and sprouts to flower. But that time for me is gone.
Someone else owns the irises my grandfather started and sent to me from California and which I planted by the stream in our front yard.
The daffodils aren't mine anymore. I realize they never were.
A perennial garden gives the illusion of permanence. The green spikes of tulips will push through the soil when the snow melts. The foundations of houses, long gone are often bordered with lilies, entirely new each spring and yet -- they are as old as the stones which mark the place where the chimney once stood. The lily of the valley that you love in a vase by your nightstand will return every May. In many ways, I've learned, the garden is more certain than we are. The iris grows half a decade after my grandfather was buried. The peonies blush without me. Circumstance and time will interrupt our plans.
When I gave up my perreneal garden as well as the house and the life that went with it, I was also cleansed of the idea that I might manage everything. No longer could I keep up with pretty pots of pansies outside my front door and organizing the elegance of life that made me feel comfortable with myself.
A divorce and the resulting re-organization of place and ideas opened up the possibility for a life I never imagined. I could no longer throw pretty parties. But I found I could always find the resources to manage what mattered.
I won't tell you it wasn't unsettling. It was. Showing up at school pick-up looking disheveled rattled my ideas of who I thought I would be.
My car was sometimes broken; my bank account was empty, but I was still me. And when I drove by my old house, the cherry trees still bloom behind a fence the new owners have installed.
Things want to live.
And now it's spring again. The children are settled. I've ordered my seeds and begged back my plot at the community garden.
The soil has thawed and the onions are shooting up their narrow leaves.
Everything is as possible this year as it is any other. My intention is to harvest great baskets of vegetables in August and to walk tall in the daylight down the community garden path.
But, if something comes up, if it all changes, I know that the soil and sun and season will solicit life and possibility just as well (perhaps better) than I can.