This morning I went out to look at my garden, as is my custom most mornings after the bus has come and gone and I have a chance to finish my coffee. Everything looked in order from afar, but as I honed in for a closer inspection, trying to sneak up on those pesky tomato suckers, I noticed my plants looked in somewhat ill health. Not exactly sick, but queasy. Now, I knew I took a risk by planting them in the dirt before Mothers Day, but the forecast looked good for an early planting, and I had been fastidious about hardening them off. We did get a cold snap last week, but not a frost in our area, and they had looked fine the morning after. The leaves were sort of yellowish, curling at the edges, with some brown spots on them. What could it be? Blight? Bugs? Too much water? Not enough? As I fondled each plant in turn, murmuring over them and worrying like the mother of a sick child (I have, after all, nurtured these babies since January!), It occurred to me that I might need some help.
I knew just where to get it, too. I hurriedly plucked the worst looking of the leaves off pepper and tomato, hopped in my truck and beat feet (My dad’s expression) to the local greenhouse to talk with my good friend who runs the garden center. She has been a resource for me over years, and one I have come to value and respect. I knew together we could figure out what ailed my lovelies. After a trot around the greenhouse with my fistfull of wilted leaves looking for my friend, who turned out not to be working that day, I decided to take a chance and ask someone else. I found another woman and after a quick inspection she informed me that my plants weren’t that sick at all, but had a case of chill stemming from wet feet. We had a chat, and she suggested in the nicest of ways that perhaps I had mulched too deeply, or perhaps too close to the stems. The previous cold, combined with a wet wind and lots of rain has weakened the plants because the roots couldn’t breath. She prescribed a treatment of kelp and seaweed mulch lightly applied to the area around the roots, and the mulch pulled back 6 inches. It turns out everyone at that greenhouse knows stuff! I rushed home to apply her advice. Below is the result. I’ll let you know in a week if my darling peppers and lovely tomatoes have recovered their former vigor.
If you live in the North East, it’s that time of year to begin planning out your garden. Unless, like me, you have been planning since December. That is when the John Scheeper’s and Burpee’s catalogues start to arrive in the post. This is not to say that I have a plan. I don’t It’s just a plan in process. The plan won’t actually be finished until about November, when I pull everything up. Then I get a month of respite before I start my seeds for next year.
How you plan your garden says volumes about who you are as a person. Here is an example. I started 12 kinds of peppers in my bathtub this January. I carefully marked each container so I could tell the difference between the Aji Jamaica and the Aji Major after they came up. I watered them and kept the lights on them religiously, never really noticing that my painstakingly crafted markers were disintegrating in the constant moisture. Truthfully, I kind of knew what was happening, but forgot to do anything about it as soon as I left the bathroom. Some might say that that’s just lazy, and they’d be partly right, but the fact is I secretly don’t care that I can’t identify them anymore. Now it’s a big mystery what might evolve from my luscious leafy pepper bushes, and I’m delighted to watch it unfold as the peppers bloom and grow. That’s just who I am. I try to be orderly, but the mystery and randomness of life pleases me too much to try very hard. I would tell you that a garden is a microcosm of the larger world, and in that I’d be right. I would tell you that the mystery and randomness one finds while gardening is how the world operates, but as it turns out, that’s just true for me.
Here is how I know. Some years ago I helped some very wonderful people to start their vegetable garden. They had bought a house with an existing garden that still held the remnants of summer, and they were inspired to plant again the following year. The challenge was that the garden was hideously overgrown and they had never gardened vegetables before. It was an interesting exercise for me in more ways than one. I took it on as a personal challenge and began to plan…my way. What I found over time was that my way was not necessarily their way, and in the end I admiringly backed out of having much of a hand in their garden. My way leaves much to the whims of nature and admits that nothing is truly within my control. For them, it was just a bit unstructured and random. They wanted a more orderly and precise garden. Well planned, I should say. They chose vegetable types and locations in advance of whimsy and availability. They chose to plant in marked rows that had been laid out in advance. It was all slightly shocking to me. In the end I admit that I learned quite a bit from their gardening practices, and continue to consider myself divinely fortunate to know them.
Some people crave order. Some people thrive on chaos. I may be little of both. I tell myself it is the sign of a flexible mind. Which kind are you?