5300The Arc of My 2017 Vegetable Garden
When it comes to knowing how to live, gardens teach us every lesson we need.
Here are four meditations on my 2017 vegetable garden. The first one is really about timing, the second alludes to the ways we cultivate ourselves and our relationships. The third references abundance and sharing. The fourth reminds me of how things end.
A – 5236, Lot #5, Louisville Community Gardens!
Thursday Afternoon, May 4, 2017
“Let’s grow a garden!
Full of good and tasty vegetables…”
From Let’s Grow a Garden, by Gyo Fujikawa, 1978
A few years ago, a low-lying plot of untended land near our house was repurposed as a community garden with about 30 plots. Some of the plots were ground level and about 8′ x10’, others were elevated and about 3’x8-10’.
During the transformation, every morning as I drove work, I watched the progress from overgrown triangle of forgotten lot too small to build on, to a lovely, organized garden space graced by a little red T-111 barn, hose bibs practically every third plot, rice pebble walkways, shade trellis in the center… It was beautiful and the sign advertising plots available hung from the trellis for a few weeks before it was finally taken down.
As I drove past it each morning, I considered applying for one of those spaces but didn’t. I’m not sure why.
Same last year. The sign hung from late winter to early April, then it was gone.
Last year, my garden here at home did not flourish. It might have been the season in general – the same space the year before yielded voluptuous tomatoes and a freezer full of fresh jalapeños, but there’s more shade each summer and I think that’s becoming a problem.
Fast forward to this year. Every morning from early March through April, I drove past the Louisville Community Garden and saw the sign hanging from the trellis again – Garden Plots Available and the web address. I promised myself I would check into it, but every morning I drove past without stopping to write down the website.
Finally, on the last day of April, I decided to do it. I parked, walked over to the trellis, took a quick photo, and hustled back to the truck. On Monday morning, May 1st, I sent an email from work, and received an immediate response. There were two plots left. The following morning, I printed and signed the form, wrote my check, and stopped by my neighbor’s house to leave it all in the envelope taped to the inside of the screen door.
An hour later, my neighbor confirmed that I was in! I was Lot #5!!! That afternoon, I stopped by on the way home to survey my North 80 (80 square feet, not acres). It might not be my first choice, but it has been assigned to me and that’s really fun. Who knows what will happen. I’m happy to part of it and I’m going to make the most of it.
Earlier today, I had to meet someone on Colorado’s West Slope in Glenwood Springs, and we agreed that the Lowe’s was easy to find and use as our rendezvous. After the meeting, I walked in and bought a decent-sized bag of organic vegetable fertilizer and plant food. When I got home this afternoon, I changed clothes, threw the shovel in, sprinkled a healthy dose of fertilizer on the plot, then turned it over with my spade. The soil looked wonderful and rich. When it was done, I sprinkled another layer on top.
The “Plots Available” banner sign had been removed. I’m so glad I didn’t wait an hour longer. If I’d procrastinated even one more day, the sign would still be down except that I wouldn’t be included.
B – 5260, Garden Club (published earlier as a separate entry, then deleted to avoid redundancy)
Monday Night, June 26, 2017
So the Garden Club is more then a garden club. Tonight was Potluck and Poetry.
Since I’d been to a few of our Garden Potlucks already, I volunteered to bring some protein. I bought a rotisserie chicken at the local grocery store and cleaned and sliced it in our kitchen before heading over. I savored the best of the heavily seasoned skin during the chores. Oh man it was so good. Who would know? (Except that three gardeners later asked where the “seasony” skin was.)
I took Billy Collins with me. During that 2500 miles on the road last week, I’d been jonesing for a Marlboro Menthol Light. During my grand business/cabin roadtrip the past week, I thought more than once about sparking up. Who would know? I could beat it this time. Not like the last iteration, where after 20 years of non-smoking, I smoked just one. Just one, mind you. And I felt that nicotine rush rise up the back of my neck and across my scalp like a tidal wave and my eyes almost blanked out and it was the most amazing thing since my first orgasm when I didn’t quite know what it was and I knelt at the bedside and promised it would never happen again and simultaneously prayed that I could do it again at least three times before that sacred night ended… and I looked at the pack and thought what a shame to throw 19 perfect cigarettes away, and then after that pack, I looked at my watch and had four hours to drive before darkness won and I stopped at the next gas-and-go and walked away with a fresh pack and one cigarette became another five years… Yeah, on this road trip last week, I really thought about buying a pack or 25.
So when it was my turn to read at the Potluck and Poetry tonight, I nudged Uncle Bill and we read “Last Cigarette”.
The kale grew dense and nutritious. Actually, I chastised some of my plants for shading and overlapping each other. Who knew that when I added an extra broccoli, and when someone needed a space for their surplus kale, my plot would end up crowded? There were things growing in other plots that looked so deeply green – I just knew I’d be healthier being around them. In mine, there were tomatoes and peppers mostly. Things you put on a BLT. Not too much though, not so much to drown out some seriously decent bacon and mayo.
Later, I came upstairs and played my guitar, then wrote this entry. I was sipping a very nicely poured V&T. No quick trip to the gas-and-go for smokes at this point.
Billy and I are safe for another evening.
All is green and healthy at the Garden Club.
Want to know more about Billy Collins and his poetry? Here’s a great starting place:
C – 5283, If You Love Them, Set Them Free
Friday Afternoon, September 1, 2017
I’ve never had tomatoes, nor any garden in any year, quite like this one. I’m so excited to leave for Switzerland tomorrow, but part if me hates to leave my garden. My tomatoes are amazing! My squash is on overdrive, the broccoli and kale are on steroids, the basil and peppers are determined to outdo themselves…
Tonight, I set them free. I sent an email to all my fellow garden club members. Here is the subject and text:
HELP YOURSELF – Mojo Tomato Karma 🙂
Dear Lovely Fellow Gardeners,
Tomorrow morning, I leave and won’t be returning until Sunday afternoon, September 10th.
Bob (#7), has graciously agreed to water my garden until I return.
Would everyone please take as many tomatoes as they need from my plot while I’m gone? Many of you have not grown them this year, or only have cherry or Roma-sized tomatoes. It is my great joy to share with all of you, and there are plenty.
In 40 years of gardening, I’ve never had such perfect, glorious, delicious tomatoes. Every morning early, I stop by the garden and combine a leaf of basil and a bite of cool tomato, fresh from the evening stillness. It is an immersion in presentness, and I urge everyone to try it at least once while I’m away.
There is one cucumber – its small – somebody please eat it.
There are likely to be a few yellow squash – again – please don’t let them go to waste.
The basil, although seeding, is so incredibly aromatic and pungent. Wrap a leaf around one of my cherry tomatoes for pure ecstasy! Take some home and make a caprese salad with some olive oil, basil, fresh mozzarella, and a dusting of fresh-cracked pepper and cayenne.
Snap off some kale and crank out a smoothie or a salad.
Lot #5 is my Plant Family. I marvel at the intelligence and creativity of plants. How does one green plant make a cucumber and one right next to it make a squash while another makes a pepper and the fourth creates a tomato?
Let them know I’m missing them while I’m away.
Rick (Lot #5)
D – 5300, Goodnight, Tender Garden
Monday evening, October 9, 2017
This past weekend was glorious. The autumn sun shown down with benevolence, backlighting October’s yellowing leaves and lightly pinking anyone who left their sunscreen at home…
I had the Saturday and Sunday available to clean out both gardens. The one here at home is all but cleaned out except for a few pepper plants with some lovelies hanging on.
The North 80/Lot #5, is a different story…
I believed the forecast for today, but with snowy-freezy inevitability so close around the corner, could I/would I deny my lovely plant family those last few hours of brilliant sunshine? They were soaking it up! They deserved to stay firmly planted as well as the right to experience what might be coming, on their own, without me. To love is to let go…
I visited on Saturday morning and pulled all the tomatoes who were close to perfection.
Midday Saturday, I helped the gang set up for the Fall Harvest Festival before heading over to Boulder for a meeting. Before leaving, I advised all present to raid my plants for anything anyone wanted before the SNOW OF DOOM arrived today, Monday.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Francine and I walked down. I really needed one more visit.
Not nearly on the same scale, but also not entirely unlike seeing my Dad for the last time in his hospital bed – I knew what was coming and wanted to assure these plants that all was well and that we’d had a good run, however many times we might have frustrated or disappointed each other along the way. I wanted to appreciate every plant one more time. Francine and I talked, but my interior monologue was directed to each plant. Each was a marvel. I thanked them one-by-one and assured them we’d meet again on some foreign shore. I snagged a few late-afternoon photos of what was left, but the glory was fading with the setting sun. With nary a cloud in the sky, I was beginning to hope the forecast was a fake-news-falsehood crafted by the Milk & Toilet Paper Council to gin up sales of emergency pantry supplies.
Fake news. Go figure.
An hour later, an ominous scrim of clouds appeared on the northern horizon. An hour or so beyond that I was up here writing when I first heard rain lash the window above and behind this monitor. Much later, about 2:30am, my internal alarm awakened me and I dashed up here and beheld the season’s first snowstorm in full splendor, lit from the corner streetlight. I considered strapping on a guitar to play it a love song, but didn’t want to awaken Francine, who was downstairs asleep. It would have been a good one – though maybe a little light on passion and a little heavy on appreciation [precipitation?]. I’d already said goodbye to my plants (also like when my Dad was accomplishing his passing), and was ready to welcome this change and whatever it would bring (also like when my Dad finally completed his transition).
This afternoon, I stopped by and took a few photos, one with a tomato protruding through about 2” of snow. It’s forecasted to be in the low 20s again tonight.
I’m pretty sure gardening is done for this year.
Tonight, I’m making the last BLTs of the season. The bacon is ready, and the tomatoes from Saturday morning’s picking have ripened on the kitchen counter to firm and juicy perfection. Our feast awaits us.
That’s the point, isn’t it? Everyday is a feast. Every day, our feast awaits us for the picking and choosing.
I wonder if my tomatoes knew what was coming? Was there any communication between the sentient coldfront and my sentient garden plants?
Did Dad know what was coming when we were having “The Final Talk”?
No question… He and I shook hands when it concluded.
So I’ll say it quietly one more time…
Goodnight, Tender Garden.
You did a good job. I know now that we both did the best we could in the moment. I loved you and was proud of you. For whatever might have happened (better or worse), it’s either appreciated or forgiven.
Now that things are winding down, all I can hope is that we made the most of our time together, shared what we came here to grow, and loosened our grip on each other graciously when the season demanded it.
Want to know more about community gardens? Visit DUG – Denver Urban Gardens: