This year my approach to gardening is decidedly more laid-back. Last year I worked myself into a feverish frenzy, scribbling ideas in a notebook, ordering seeds and supplies, and spending way too much money. After a fairly successful garden season and some wisdom and experience in my back pocket, now I’m ready to relax a bit. Sort of like the parent who obsessed over the health and safety of their firstborn child, sees that the child pretty much turns out mostly okay without excessive fuss, and relaxes the reins on the second-born child.
Speaking of children, that is a large part of the reason why I will be taking a more laid-back approach to this season. I am halfway through my first pregnancy, with a baby boy due at the very beginning of August. I will be growing bigger and bigger, right along with my flowers and produce. I don’t want to overexert myself over what could potentially be for me, a hot and uncomfortable summer.
While I want to take it easy, I still don’t want to miss the opportunity to be in the garden, growing things, producing food, tracking bees this summer. Gardening is the one hobby in my life (more than photography, writing, baking, cooking) that makes me keenly aware of how brief life is. You have at most, what, 40-50 growing seasons? And that’s if you got interested in gardening at an early age, and were able to continue for a good while before age and limited physical ability slow you down. So I don’t want to overdo it, but again, I don’t want to live the rest of my life without growing at least something each year.
So here’s my working philosophy for this growing season:
The Best Things In Life (and my garden) Are Free: I will achieve my goal of spending less money by taking advantage of what is free. Right now I have tulips and hyacinths pushing up from the spring-warmed soil. The tulips were all a gift from my grandmother’s garden last fall, and the hyacinths are recycled bulbs from last year’s potted Easter flowers. Also free are the seeds that I’ve saved from last season’s marigolds, heavenly blue morning glories, love-in-a-mist, and both the Lemon Queen and Evening Sun sunflowers.
Perennials – I get it: Last spring I was invited to a local church’s annual perennial exchange, and I came home with bell flowers, black-eyed Susans, and shasta daisies. Overheard at the exchange? Two pre-teen girls who came with their mothers talking to the lead organizer of the exchange, and when annuals were mentioned, the girls wrinkled their noses and shook their heads. The organizer laughed and said their moms had trained them well. Now I do love some annuals, like the azure morning glories, but I’m developing an appreciation for the steadfastness and hardiness (and frugality!) of perennials. I’m anticipating their return in the garden bed this year, and I’ve noticed that the bell flower has already created a baby plant.
Less Is More: I live in a lovely, sunny apartment that has a south-facing garden bed and patio. Unfortunately, a wooden fence separates the Victorian house my apartment is in from a shopping center with a gas station. When we called our cooperative extension to inquire about testing the soil, the woman encouraged us to do raised garden beds or container gardening, for reasons of underground gas tanks and parking lot runoff. Therefore, I don’t have a lot of growing space. I need to limit myself as far as growing my own produce, and rely on local farmer’s markets or CSA shares for the rest this summer. So I’m turning to the advice of Anne Raver from the New York Times. She wrote an article titled “Out of the Yard and Onto the Fork”, and one section in particular interested me:
“IF I had only a few pots on a terrace, or a tiny outdoor plot, I would grow one big pot or a square foot of mesclun, a mix of salad greens that includes arugula, Japanese mustard, endive, and red and green lettuces. Simply fill a pot with a mix of potting soil and organic compost, and moisten well. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface, cover with a quarter inch of compost and water lightly to moisten the seeds. As the first baby greens grow, pull out any weeds and thin out the mesclun, eating the leaves you pull. Start more greens every couple of weeks, and move the pots into semi-shade when hot weather arrives. Or switch to heat-tolerant lettuces, like oak leaf and buttercrunch.
Fill a few smaller pots with herbs: Italian parsley, Genovese basil, dill, oregano, bay and rosemary. Plant one or two no-fail tomatoes, one each to a large pot, or one to a two-square-foot plot: one cherry type, like Mexico Midget, Jaune Flammé or Sungold, and a big juicy producer like Big Beef, Better Boy or Rutgers. (Plants are readily available at farmers’ markets and plant sales or by mail order, from www.burpee.com, www.seedsavers.org, www.whiteflowerfarm.com and others.)
Add a Meyer lemon in a big pot, if you have a sunny spot where it can winter indoors, and you can enjoy organic lemons all year. Edible flowers, like my favorite, Empress of India nasturtiums, can be tucked into pots or garden beds, and plucked as a spicy garnish for salads.”
So I’ll keep my food production pretty simple: two or three kinds of tomatoes, and a few herbs in small pots. Luckily I have great options for sourcing local produce throughout the growing season, whether it’s Saturday farmer’s markets, CSA shares, or farm stands by the roadsides. And I’ll enjoy my limited selection of flowers this year, keeping my garden within the self-imposed boundaries of seeds I’ve saved and my perennials. I think I will indulge myself in only two purchases for the garden this year: first, a hanging basket overflowing with beautiful annuals for the hook beside the apartment door. There’s a woman with a greenhouse a few miles down the road who does an amazing job of cultivating these and she charges fair prices. Last summer I tried making my own hanging basket of thunbergia, and was disappointed in the spindly results and sparse flowers. To make it easier on myself and to support a one-woman local nursery operation, I will treat myself to one of her beautiful baskets that will last all summer. Secondly, I’ll be purchasing some nylon netting to tack up on the wall behind the side garden bed, and allow my morning glories to run rampant up the walls on it. It’s inexpensive and it will get the job done nicely, I hope.
Other than those two purchases and a couple of bags of potting soil, it’s reduce, reuse, recycle all the way! I’ll keep things updated and see how the summer goes.