News from the garden

Frank came by to install baseboards on the main floor. He did an excellent job of it. We hadn’t seen each other in months.

In my solitary life, I’ve employed my time with writing, gardening and painting. I see friends and am working at promoting my art work. Of all of these, the only thing in which he is remotely interested is the gardening, so I took him on a tour.

I’m rather proud of what I have accomplished in the two years I’ve had this place. It was overgrown. Shrubs had to be cut back. The boxwood was so prolific that a car could no longer drive up the driveway. The iris beds were overrun and so thickly matted together that it was impossible to get a spade through them to thin them out as they should be. I’ve still not tackled that problem.

This year I have cleared some areas and turned the soil. I am a rank dilettante at this and happy to be so. I’m mostly interested in seeing what I can grow and with the renewed interest in growing one’s own food, I thought I might give it a try.

I understood that several things would thrive on rich soil such as one might find where a compost heap had once been. Whistler, on one of his lengthy visits, found the original compost heap and we used the surface dirt in other areas.

When I planned my food garden this year, I had to work around the fact that really, there was very little space left for food plantings. In May, the Triple Tree Nursery had a door crasher sale on seedlings. I went to get some tomato plants at sixty-eight cents each. There were cucumbers and squash plants as well and I had the luminous idea to put one or two in the old composting area. Since the trees had been cut back, lots of light came into this little corner of the yard.

I had an ulterior motive. All that garden area needs to be dug over and it’s a big spot.  It’s riddled with buttercup and I’ve only taken out a fraction of what needs to be removed. I had a hopeless thought that perhaps the squash and cucumber family of plants would grow so prolifically that their large leaves would cut off all the light from the buttercup and my garden woud not look quite so unkempt.

Then I lucked out on a purchase of several flats of annuals from a local farm. They were finished with their sale of plants. In amongst those things that I bought were fennel, so much Brussels Sprouts that I had to give more than half of the seedlings away,onions,  a few more tomatoes, some celery plants, more cucumber plants and what else I no longer remember. I spent perhaps fifteen dollars on the total of it, and seven dollars could be attributed to potential vegetables.

When I said I didn’t know exactly where I was going to plant them, that the garden was already pretty full, the farm lady said, “Your Brussel Sprouts can go in with the flowers. They are tall and their leaves very pretty. When they flower they are magnificent.

Within three days, all was planted. They were not in a vegetable patch. They were, as she suggested, in amongst the flowers with which, normally, I have a modicum of success.

That was the end of  May. When Frank saw the garden it was the end of June. It’s the end of July now and this is a progress report.

In the cheeriest voice I could muster, almost knowing before I said it, what his reaction would be. I said to Frank, “How do you like my vegetable garden?”

I chuckled inwardly as he struggled to keep his disdain from his voice. We have a tenuous friendship now and he was keeping his response in mind of this fact.

“I hope you didn’t outlay too much money for all this,” was all he would say, with as neutral a look as he could muster.

Since, I’ve had several occasions to doubt my ability to grow vegetables.  All previous attempts in my earlier years were disasters. Why would this year be an;y different? Notable  was the year that the deer got everything just a few days before I intended to harvest.  I consoled myself that they had not eaten the root vegetables, except for the tops of them. When I pulled out the remains, there were no roots. I think I had not watered them as I should.

Last year, the only food crop I had planted was yellow beans, but they were not successful. I gave the only bean that produced – yes, just one bean – to my sister to eat, and it was so small and tender that it did not even need cooking.

I took Lizbet to see Lillian’s wonderful garden on the fifteenth of July. Now, there is a garden! The cabbages are twenty four inches across. The garlic flowers stand six feet high. The raspberry canes are calling out for passers-by to steal a few of the plump berries. There are rows of tall onion plants. The lettuce crop has come and gone. She allows them to go to seed for next year and they are really rather beautiful, standing a good two to three feet tall with large leafy bases, some ruffled with red, some with a pale soft new green. Everything is developing, growing robustly, big and bountiful.

Several times, I’ve thought I should see whether or not my twenty dollars of seedling purchase could be justified. I would love to say that I had profited from my labours.

I’m inching up in this regard. The strawberries – perhaps a bowlful as the entire crop – doesn’t count. The plants were free, a gift from Lizbet. The handful of raspberries are already harvested. There were so few at a time that I ate them at the start of my gardening session, a kind of encouragement for my labours. They too, don’t count – the canes were a gift from Heather from her garden. Twice I have given a haircut to my chives and eaten them chopped fine in an omelet shared with some visiting relative. Again – no monetary return.

On Tuesday, I harvested ten lovely big broad beans, tender, full of goodness and tasty with just salt and butter. I ate them for dinner. I’ll hazard that I’m thirty cents to the good on that one. More are coming.

I don’t know what got into me today. The thriving potatoes that I had planted from sprouting old ones in the bottom of my fridge vegetable bin started to annoy me. They take up too much space. The Brussel sprouts are not growing and I suspect it’s because they don’t have enough light. So I pulled one out this morning only to find a potato half the size of a baseball.  I was encouraged.

I kept digging, dreaming of a new potato dinner. By the time I was finished, I had a pound of potatoes, I’ll hazard a guess. There’s another fifty cents. I replanted a few of the potatoes that had tiny new potatoes coming to see if that might work. You never know.

I cooked my harvest up for dinner. They have rather rough skins which I peeled away. When they were cooked al dente, they nevertheless fell into a powdery mush. Ach! I fried them up with butter, trying to make the best of a doubtful deal. They are the mashed potatoes type of potato. The little bit of butter became a big bit of butter. It didn’t matter how much butter was added, they simply absorbed it. I ate them all – and I didn’t even really like them.

I will add though, that my rhubarb is finally eight inches high, the celery is not any higher, the Brussels sprouts are on the average six inches high (my friend Lillian of the green thumb, hers are four feet high. Raspberries and strawberries, are of course, finished for the year. I have one big beautiful flower on the Butternut squash and the leaves, just today, have become big and are beginning to travel across the garden in a direction opposite to the buttercup they were supposed to disguise.  The onions that are supposed to be big like a baseball are still looking like bunch onions – small, weak and thin.

And that’s my progress report.

I think I’ll go out and rip all the potatoes out when it gets cool tonight. I didn’t even like them!

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