cafe mama

finding magic every day

growing a gardener . april 08 . 2007

I tell people I have a black thumb. I don't think it's entirely true, though I did spectacularly kill a peace lily by watering it with Sprite in college. And please don't remind me about my umpteen unsuccessful attempts to start tomatoes, peppers, and a variety of doomed herbs from seed.

It's certainly not from lack of desire. I long to be a gardener, one whose peonies and artichokes and rainbow chard and amazing hand-made modern benches attract photographers from the Oregonian's Home & Garden section. I have stacks of books; I've watched oodles of garden design shows. I know how to lay a path using crazy paving; I know how to pour concrete feet for fence posts. I know that peas need to be planted in the early spring, pumpkins in the early summer.

Yet somehow, between desiring and doing, I fall flat. When I was pregnant with Everett, shortly after I moved into my lovely beautiful house (five plus years ago), I spent a couple of Saturdays wildly cutting down blackberry bushes and overturning dirt. And then... got a little busy. When my sister moved in with us the next summer, she took a turn, making some lovely plots where we planted a few things, and they even grew, a bit. And then... I got pregnant with Truman, Jonathan went to basic training, and I stopped looking at my backyard except to pick blackberries for pie or let the kids run around like sun-soaked hooligans in the pretty mossy grass that eventually grew up in the middle of our yard.

the before pics
My brother-in-law dumped a boat in the yard; my sister-in-law would occasionally bring friends there to smoke and drink cheap wine. Every once in a while someone would start a project, and then stop, frustrated by the rather awesome scope and the problems created by previous owners and the perky "volunteer" trees and drunken blackberry vines that kept coming back with twice their strength after our half-hearted efforts to vanquish them. My yard is the better part of a 50' x 200' lot, with plum trees and a gorgeous weeping willow (I always longed for a weeping willow) and a humongous pine tree that keeps our house cool in the summer. It's full of potential. Too much potential.

But this past week I passed some mental hurdle. I bought a book on Square Foot gardening, at Larissa's recommendation, and somehow it hit some chord with me, or maybe I was just there with my second-trimester energy and the week's vacation and I set in, methodically snipping blackberry vines to shreds, digging up their roots, pulling dandelion after dandelion, chopping down the volunteer trees that were now voluntarily blocking out the afternoon sun to my chosen garden area, as well as providing a nice trellis for weedy vines and berries, moving the dirt the previous owner had shoved out of the way of his fleet of rundown pickup trucks.

My dad came with his own pickup truck and shoveled in a half-yard of gravel (which is a lot!). Larissa and Martin gave me boxes, old window frames from their what-once-was garage. We went to Home Depot and bought most of the ingredients for "Mel's mix" (but the vermiculite, completely unavailable at Home Depot; locally, Portland Nursery has vermiculite for $26 for 4 cubic feet; my dad is sure I can get the much-less-Square-Foot-Garden-approved industrial grade stuff for far cheaper at Mason's Supply and I'm planning to try that tomorrow). And every day during my vacation, I dug and hauled snipped-up vines and carried armloads of dry branches to the wood pile. I made a compost pile; I relocated large rocks; I tried to dig up the trunks of the volunteer trees (and gave up). Every day I slayed several blackberry vines, not wanting to give up for the night until I dug up just one more. The boys loved it; Everett insisted the blackberry vines and evil spiders had put a curse on garden, killing his imaginary sister/princess/girlfriend; in order to break the spell and bring her back to life, we needed to vanquish them and plant a beautiful garden. Truman just likes to dig in the dirt, pick up beetles by their legs, and chase the chicks when we let them roam for a few minutes. Every night I would lie awake, buzzing, until I got up to draw whatever brilliance I'd developed while listening to the awful tales of global warming on BBC.

And finally, on Friday, I planted. We planted sugar snap peas and sweet peas and swiss chard and red clover, right into the dirt I'd so carefully rid of its encroachments. I've already planned what will be planted in most of my sort-of-true-Square-Foot-Garden boxes (I'm curious to see if the obviously vibrant dirt in my yard will succeed compared to Mel's evangelistic method, and I couldn't wait for the vermiculite). I've got to be in this yard every day this spring and summer; I have boys to run and chickens; Bella, Mathilda and Twitter; to build a coop for. I've got this big gorgeous space and I'm suddenly full-to-brimming with execution. I have a several-phase plan, one that I know can be completed; after all, just look what I did in this one week with a rather giant belly and two small boys!

I'm not growing a garden. I'm growing a gardener. And I'll be sure to clue you in on the little things I've learned, like, don't plant more than you'll eat (one of Mel's annoying-but-true tips: you shouldn't plant anything you wouldn't find in your grocery basket on a typical shopping trip) and make sure you will be around your potential garden a lot. I haven't, really, up until now. But now? I have to be. I will. And if I keep listening to 1 a.m. climate change reports on the BBC, I won't be able to stop for anything. It may barely make Time's 51-ways-to-save-the-environment list, but for me, growing my own garden is the next step in my own personal save-the-world to-dos.

paying the bills

read my previous post . vacation resolutions . april 02 . 2007