My garden developed into a big disappointment this year. As always I was full of anticipation with the dark earth turned and ready for seeds to cover and protect, until each began its journey up and out. Our house was becoming a greenhouse what with the plants Patrick had started in yoghurt cups growing madly. It all began so promising. And yet my over-anticipation took over and that one warm day in May we re-potted those indoor monsters outside where suddenly in the expanse of garden, they became fragile, so fragile that the cold, rainy non-spring we had mercilessly drowned and chilled the tiny plants to death. And then the snails and slugs took over. One zucchini plant, determined to survive, produced a blossom. At least one zucchini plant! Hooray! I thought, but my next investigation the following day revealed nothing. Gone, devoured by those icky, slimy slugs. This process repeated itself, the little plant adamant about doing its job, and those good-for-nothing things feasting every night on fresh zucchini blossoms.
By late June my snow peas looked encouraging. During one extreme wind and rain storm, I stuck to the window in my children’s bedroom, anxious as my snow peas danced leaning dramatically first to the left, then way over to the right. I’ll admit I prayed for my snow peas: please let at least my snow peas survive. They did, if not all a bit off-kilter. I harvested and preserved, trying to keep up, but eventually failing as I prepared instead for our long-awaited family visit. As the women in the family helped with the peas (read about that here), they expressed their concern out loud when they heard me apologizing to my forsaken carrots for the weeds taking over their space. By mid-July the snow peas were done, and although my mother encouraged me to remove their weathered-remains from the garden, I just couldn’t. What if they produce just one more snow pea? Look, here’s a new green sprout – life is still coursing through its plant veins! And so the snow peas remained, providing shade for weeds and non-edible mushrooms instead.
Had I listened to Patrick and agreed to another round of horse manure, our garden’s productivity may have looked different. But a neighbor who always has fresh vegetables from her garden, wagged her finger at me while asserting manure is required only every other year. Obviously she knows better, so I convinced Patrick we should wait. My green beans, the gratifying plant it is, produced well, even without much attention from me, holey leaves from hail and dirt without much oomph in it. This year we skipped the superfluous conversation: the fresh horse manure is already arranged, even with the promise of more every year to come.
Already discouraged I wasn’t surprised when my corn cobs turned out only partially nice, although the plants demand attention because of their height. I cheered when I discovered one broccoli plant that survived the weather and slugs, but only managed to shrug my shoulders when the at most bite-size broccoli bit scoffed at my market-sized wishes and offered instead tiny yellow flowers. The fennel looked gorgeous, but had the consistency of wood. No matter how long I cooked it, the children managed to discover it swimming among the soup. After two attempts at smuggling the fennel into lunch, I left the others in the garden to their own devices. Instead of producing edible vegetables, our garden looked more like an experiment in discovering how to recover seeds from flowering produce.
The weeds did what weeds do – i.e. took over – and my once vegetables continued to bloom flowers. Fenja was proud when she identified “wild carrots” in our garden just like the ones she learned about at school. I didn’t have the heart to tell her those actually should have been carrots to eat. When I hung up laundry outside to dry, I made a point of NOT looking at my garden as I walked past. It was too discouraging. Once so full of hope and excitement about all the potential it holds, I had failed my garden. I had not given it the love and care it needed, and this obviously is what I deserved.
But not all is lost. Our plum tree is having a good year. Last year not one plum hung on its branches, and this year we’re running out of ways to preserve them. We’ve already frozen them, canned them, made plum butter and plum cake. Our neighbors were kind enough to share their apple harvest with us. I made fresh applesauce and actually canned it this year, instead of freezing it like I had in the past. With the ripening ones in the cellar, I think I’ll make apple butter. My desperation at not finding “home-grown” tomatoes (for me that means grown in our state) relaxed at the city market last weekend. Tomato sauce is in the making.
And when I finally gave in to the warming autumn sun calling me outside, I decided I had ignored my garden long enough. This past season of gardening may have been a disappointing one, but luckily a garden doesn’t give up that quickly, if the gardener renews her pact. I did just that and dove back into those rows of chaos, pulling, tearing and carrying away all sorts of weeds, creepy-crawly things and mushrooms that have no place in my garden. I reclaimed the potential of a new year and the dark earth, as it waits again for seeds to cover and protect.
After hours of working (my back was hollering it had had enough!), I started in on the rows of what Fenja called our wild carrots. It certainly did look wild. But as I continued making room for the new, I stopped. Among all those plants vying for space, I recognized a carrot top, like one of the many I had pulled from my garden last year. No way, I thought, as I brushed away dirt from the top. There it was. Despite my negligence this carrot prevailed. I tugged the round red carrot from its hiding spot, freed it from the clinging dirt and called to the kids, who were also enjoying the sun. “Look guys! A carrot from our garden!” Liam’s eyes grew round and he whooped as he ran over to check it out. Alida begged to eat it right away, and Fenja seemed dumbfounded that it wasn’t all just wild carrots.
As it turned out, it wasn’t just one carrot that had survived this turbulent gardening year. In those two rows of wild carrots, I pulled enough various sized and colored carrots to fill a box. We won’t need to buy any for about a month.
At a meeting that evening my friend conveyed concern for my back, as I tenderly got up and down from the couch.
“Oh, it’s no big deal, I finally did some work in the garden,” I explained. “And you wouldn’t believe the carrots I found! All year I was so disappointed with my garden and now that I wasn’t expecting anything anymore, I discovered the carrots. Man,” I continued, shaking my head, “Maybe I need to lower my expectations next year. Then it can only turn out good!”
Maybe, but not necessarily. I guess that’s probably not the right lesson to be learned from this whole experience. From out of the chaos and disappointment, it is satisfying to see something useful and good come out of it. For the next month we can eat home-grown carrots; frozen snow peas and beans will accompany us throughout the winter; canned applesauce and plums await the right opportunity to make another appearance. My heart is full from what came when I was least expecting it.