I thought I’d chime in on the subject of this year’s garden failures. Before I do, I’d like to thank you all for your kind advice and commiseration that you left on Erik’s post.
First, I will agree that it really, truly has been a terrible year in the garden. Sometimes Erik gets a little melodramatic when it comes to the crop failure (e.g. the Squash Baby adventure) but the truth is we’ve never, ever had such a sorry string off disasters and non-starters since we began gardening.
And I think that’s something to keep in mind. This is unusual. When things are going wrong, it’s easy to forget how often they go right. That’s why it’s good to keep a garden journal, or a blog, or even just a photo collection to look back on, so you can track your progress more objectively.
So when I look back on this blog, and through our old photos, I can see the successes far outweigh the failures. Disasters are inevitable when gardening–that’s part of the game– but they are usually balanced by good times. This year, though, it seemed nothing went right.
What went wrong?
Well, the crazy weather, the skunks and–holy climate change–frost!–have played their part. But my gut on this is that it comes down to our lack of true engagement with the garden. In short, it’s an attitude problem.
Ever since we learned we have lead in our soil, the garden has been all about containment and management and safety and compromise. And none of those things say “fun.”
I think the best gardening comes about through curiosity and joy. We should all be like little kids in the garden, excited to plant those seeds, out there every day to see how much they’ve grown.
I remember one the first vegetables I ever planted in our garden was cabbage. I don’t know why I planted cabbage. Now I’d recommend that newbie gardeners in this climate plant start with something a little less risky, a little more climate appropriate, a little less time invested. Like arugula! But back then, I was blissfully ignorant and wanted to plant cabbages in our first proper vegetable bed because storybook gardens always grew cabbages.
I’m glad I did. It was so much fun to watch the cabbages grow. I’d just hang out with them, watching their huge, gorgeous purple, blue and green leaves unfold (and dutifully picking the slugs off said leaves). I’d never seen cabbages in their natural state before, and they were a wonder and a marvel to me. Somewhere we have a fourteen year old picture of me holding my first cabbage, grinning my head off.
That, folks, is why we should garden.
Not to get woo-woo and people away, but I think there’s a spirit to the garden, and it responds to our intentions. This is not to say that good intentions alone can make a good garden. You need knowledge, the cooperation of the elements, and the willingness to put in the work. But I think that the spirit of the garden is the grace note that helps ensure success.
To appease the spirit, I need to become an excited, engaged gardener again. Erik may not agree with my diagnosis, but I’m applying it to him as well. To me, it’s clear he’s not having any fun either. We need to approach our land with the joy and wonder we used to have. There’s a huge difference between hopeful expectations and dull expectations–or worse, cranky demands (Grow, damn you!).
How do we find that spirit again?
I can’t speak for Erik, but for me, it starts with curiosity. Along with the standard edibles, we should plant some unusual things this spring, stuff we’ve never grown before, or plants that attract me for some idiosyncratic reason. Fun plants, in other words.
Above, I re-posted that picture of the heart-shaped flax bed I created planted back in 2011. Planting a few square feet of flax was not the most practical act in the world, but it was fun. I’d never seen flax growing before, and I wanted to get to know its ways, because it’s such an important plant– the source of linen and linseed oil and of course, flax seeds. I considered it a privilege–I don’t know any better word– to watch it grow tall and bloom. At the end of the season, Erik threshed the heads and collected about a pint of flax seeds.
In conclusion, as we race toward the spring equinox, which marks our next round of planting, I think Erik and I need to plan a Fun Garden, complete with strange elements. Maybe I’ll advocate for cotton. Or loofa vines–it’s been years since we last grew those, and they are fantastic. Or sweet potatoes. I’ve never grown them for the tubers, only the greens.
The skunks can have the lettuce.