As a hobby farmer and a life-long dreamer, one has to accept the truth. Facts don’t have feelings. Each spring I tour the increasingly decaying gardens. I knew I was at a turning point yesterday when I said,” Maybe we should leave this fallow”. After two consecutive years of blight,I am less inclined to plant a vast garden. Each year I have downsized and cut back on the varieties as I have determined which vegetables the animals find the most tasty. I admit that I always get carried away despite my promises to be more restrained with my vegetable purchases. This spring, actually just yesterday, I pulled out about 60 leeks from the raised beds. Those were leeks that were left in all winter, because time ran out and we did not time manage very well. Two large plastic containers sat beside the beds all winter long, a sign of things not done. I feel very guilty over food waste and although I can compost it, the compost that I started seven summers ago, is still sitting there intact, never having been used. More gardening guilt, gardening is full of guilt and regret. My partner read that the coal left over from the fireplace was good for gardens and he dumped in a huge amount of coal in large chunks.The fact is, in order to benefit SOME types of plants, it should be a mere dusting. Too much is toxic. He said not to worry, once we rototill it will all be fine. No, it won’t, I thought.
One hard lesson we all learn, if you want something done right do it yourself. Hiring someone is placing your garden in their hands and in their interpretation of what a garden should look like. My gardens are always on the wild and untamed side. I will think twice before I ever ask someone to trim the edges or create a border. Most people want defined line and a tidy look, they cant understand my proclivity for garden chaos. Last summer my partner decided to prune an enormous pine tree in the front, of course he was trying to make it easier to turn out of the property as the heavy branches were obstructing the view. With good intentions he went way too far and created a huge gaping hole that gave a direct view of the property we try so hard to keep private. When I asked him why he had taken so many branches off and told him I was most displeased, he told me I should have done it myself.
This adage is of course true in the garden and also in the kitchen.I used to tell my cooks, when I was on the line and asked for something, I meant run. Most of the cooks figured that out soon enough. Those that didn’t, were not around for long, as they obviously didn’t understand the professional kitchen mentality. I have found that no one will rake as gently as I do in the Spring when the flowers are tender. No one weeds with the precision that I do and no one prunes as thoughtfully as I do and no one sees the tomatoes that need to be tied up or the vegetables that need to be picked, immediately. Gardening and growing vegetables is all about timing and the window is narrow. If you miss the time to plant your vegetables, that opportunity is over.
So it is with gardens. The time is now and that is stressful. I have come to terms with the tasks that I am not physically capable of. Some, like rototilling , I was never able to do, but raking leaves, even enormous quantities, I used to be able to manage, even if it did leave me sore. Nowadays, I have to break tasks into manageable sections, which is difficult for me to accept. Instead of an enormous vegetable garden, I am going to turn my second plot into a wildflower and herb garden. Less maintenance and the bees will love it. The only issue is that it will require patience, something I am not blessed with. In time the herbs and flowers will spread and create a colorful carpet of vivid colors. Another bonus, it is far less expensive to let things grow ad spread organically.
The raspberry canes were broken after being nibbled by deer and the asparagus patch has vanished, devoured by weeds. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend how the grass grows in my garden, but not on the lawn. The lilacs also loved by hungry dear, who strip the bark and break branches and even entire trees are waning. There is so much decay and death in a garden. You have to feed it constantly to keep the blooms alive. Feeding is very expensive. The rhododendron and Weigela that I planted did not survive the winter. The front of my farmhouse looks barren. I have landscaped it 6 years in a row and each spring it looks worse.
I was reading an article this morning about early peas, peas are touted as foolproof. I planted my first peas when I was a young girl of Five at the cottage in lake Simcoe. My first summer here, I recall planting alderman peas that never grew. I came across a bucket of hand written signs that I made, I has such hope and belief in my gardener’s heart, we all have to. Over 3/4 of what I have sent money on, grown from seeds in doors died. All that time and energy for death to steal my meals. Animals are a constant threat and I admit that I had to give up planting any leafy greens, kale, Brussel sprouts, bokchoy, endive any of it.Did I mention that all of my seedlings, and I planted 10 trays died.
I am sad, very sad. I have to come to terms that I won’t have the farm with chickens and lambs and a pig or two or even a rescue donkey running around. I don’t have the knowledge or the money. I did have Lucy and she was attacked and killed by a fisher that came to challenge me as if I were to be next. Without dogs, or a proper coop, it’s immoral to keep chickens. Besides, I could never kill one and even eating her eggs, that were often dirty with poop and feathers turned my stomach. I am not much of a hobby farm girl, am I?
Gardening and property management takes money. lots of it, energy and time. it takes strength, stamina and determination. it takes the commitment to what you have planted and invested in. Animals tie you down, but so too can gardens. I look at all the leaves and dirt that fill my garden beds and I realize that I alone, cannot do it. my partner who admits he cares about vegetables and not gardens, is helpful, but on his terms.
This spring the unavoidable finally happened. My albatross the out building collapsed along with my heart and hopes. Initially that was to be a cooking studio. The contractor stole my money and never did the job. I have been staring at this rotting behemoth for 6 years and to witness its collapse was both shocking and a relief. The mess that it made was beyond comprehension. This week a demolition “team” of two arrived with a hammer to begin the demolition. they pulled the building down with a rope and it landed on three of my garden beds. I was and still am the only person that cares about my garden and its destruction. The manner in which the workers picked and flung debris all over my irises, peonies, tulips, hyacinth, lavender columbine lupine and roses seemed cruel and at the very least insensitive. I keep reading out to friends and family in the hopes that they would see the reason for my upset and anger. It takes a gardener to know, or at least sympathize witha gardener and the rest just don’t get it.
Looking at the fallen heaps of junk broken glass from my
fish tank and the filth that has floated into to pond I feel hopeless. I assume that as they are working one man at a time, I am going to have these hooligans here for months. I was chatting with my daughter on the phone and the doorbell rang, which it seldom does and one of the workers asked me if had horseshoes and he would like them. he obviously was snooping through the barn, I thought the cheek of him. All the noise, machines and men chased away the spring turkeys. Every year I look forward to the resplendent toms parading around the indifferent jenny’s. So too have the starlings abandoned their faithful nest.
Gardens don’t last forever, and they bring such joy and such sorrow. Perennials are a misnomer. perennials don’t exist. Perennials only promise to live for two years, but let’s be honest most people think it means they will keep blooming for an eternity. We take these perennials for granted. Of course, some reproduce on their own. However, if you don’t divide them at the right time, things can go badly. Other plants just keep spreading, like poison ivy, the local specialty in these parts. For me the worst part is that everyone else seems to have the garden that I envy. No marauding animals or blight. My property is on rock and what I can grow is limited, there are so many places where digging is impossible. The only deep holes I can see are the ones that the team of ground hogs has dug all over my property. they seem to prefer the middle of all my garden beds, they truly leave no stone unturned. You can’t win, you can fill in the hole they just dig a much larger one around it which takes in the flowers like quicksand. I wince as I see my glorious irises sink into the hole, where the ground hit happily munches on them.
Optimism is much more difficult than pessimism at this point. Looking ahead and examining what needs to get done seems an insurmountable task at this point. Set against the hideous background of watching a building, full of my things, get dissected and autopsied has not been helpful. the mere sight of that building with its cheerful green siding laying down as it if had exploded is difficult. I salvaged the wren bird house and was wistful. That wren has been a constant and dutiful bird that would always check out the bird house and would sing from it to attract the females, however he was a tease. Outside of the first year when they had a nest, they never nested there again. I could hear him singing happily at the next-door neighbors.
My pond is thick with debris and sludge and I retrieved many dead fish and frog bodies they had succumbed to the cold and unrelenting snow and ice. This is the first year that not one fish survived. yesterday as I was trying to clear out the roofing material from the pond I spotted one wee frog and I felt sorry for it. I want it to find a new home.
On the bright side the peepers are peeping and the great horned is hooting. A few of the flowers that I bought at the dollar store popped up and the bees are busy.
The white crowned sparrows and the rose breasted grosbeaks hare back. There is a great sense of joy and wonder when you see the same birds returning to your waiting feeders every year.
The herring gull that is permanently planted on my new roof top is not exactly making me feel wonder at the uncanny sense of returning to the same spot each year.
Keep your fingers crossed and pray for me so that I don’t get caught up in the garden fervor. I must resist the temptation to fill my beds with food for the creatures.
Tending and attempting to nurture and in some ways, control the land is in so many ways futile. Much like the idea that the heart has reasons that reason cannot know. Nature has reasons that man cannot know.
The Serenity Prayer is helping me now.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things, I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Even gardeners who are purportedly in a constant state
of reaping the rewards of hard labor, don’t always get to bring those rewards to the bank or kitchen table.
I wonder, Is nature telling me to surrender to the inexorable forces and the cycle of life and death? There is little doubt that the sight of the rhubarb burgeoning or the song of the oriole will lift my spirits and draw me back to what I love best, my gardens, my birds and beasts and my buzzing bees.
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade