Thursday, April 2, 2009
The Magic of Gardens
(Someone, Please Steal This Idea!)
I love to garden in the winter, and in our North Texas climate, that is probably a good thing. One has to get an early start on the Texas heat, and it’s always tricky striking a balance between getting a jump on the drought and blistering sun with plants that are liable to bolt, and trying to ‘cheat’ our freeze date of March 17 by planting tender things like potatoes early — then remembering to cover them if we get a late freeze. There was one year when my kids were little — by the first of April, I had a burgeoning garden over which I was blissfully prideful, only to watch a late freeze take it down in mid-April!
This year, my son-law-law and grandson beat me to the punch. They had their onions in by mid-February, and now theirs are way ahead of mine. Still, by the second week in March, I could see the beginnings in my small vegetable patch of sugar-pod peas, carrots, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes inter planted with nasturtiums, Italian parsley, radishes and bibb lettuce — all planted with the help of my three grandchildren. And in the perennial bed, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear, echinacea, artemisia and perennial marigold had over-wintered successfully and were leafing out.
Then my granddaughter found some potato plants growing out of small pieces of potato skin in the compost pile, and she pulled them out. One already had teensy baby potatoes growing on the roots, not an eighth of an inch long. She and I were pretty thrilled with this discovery and stuck the plants into the dirt at the end of the veggie patch. Four out of five are still going strong!
Today, she and I found a cloves of garlic sprouting in a basket in the kitchen, took them outside and stuck them in the ground. Later, we were thinning the lettuce plants, and she asked, “Do we take these and put them somewhere else?” “We can eat them if we want to, since we didn’t have salad for dinner.” Her eyes widened with tremendous excitement after a lifetime of being told she absolutely could not eat plants she picked up in her nature studies! We were washing dirt off lettuce sprouts and popping them in our mouths for the next half hour.
And what of my rather fatal tendency to research seed catalogs in the dead of winter, make detailed lists, shop for seeds, plan, diagram, plant, and chart a garden fervently in late winter / early spring, set up elaborate systems of hose hookups for watering… then get busy with other things and skip the rather vital part of actually doing the watering for several days at a time in a climate where three days without water is a death knell to many plants? Hallelujah! My grand kids as almost-first-graders are responsible enough now to head straight out to the garden, grab the hose, and give things a good soaking themselves.
When my girls were small, Steve, their dad (an expert gardener who puts me in the shade) kept a really marvelous and large organic garden. We literally had three or four varieties of fresh vegetables for dinner most nights during peak season. One mild winter day, my daughters and I went out to sit in the garden plot and ‘watch nature.’ All the vegetables from the previous fall had long been harvested and consumed. Then one of us noticed some carroty-looking sprouts coming out of the ground and pulled them up. There were several sweet, cold carrots that had managed to winter over! We wiped the dirt off and ate them on the spot. My girls are twenty-eight and thirty-one now, and we still talk about that day and how good those carrots tasted.
These days, as soon in the afternoon as I get a chance, I head out to the garden. It is such a tonic. There is something healing about being there that helps me leave everything behind — something that goes beyond words.
Recently, while I was out there deadheading winter growth off of some perennials, I began to think of the healing effects of being in the garden, ‘watching the lettuce grow,’ and I thought how great it would be for people in homeless shelters to be able to plant and manage a community garden, while they are in the process of transitioning from the street into housing. My fantasy spun off into all the elements required to grow strong plants: getting the proper soil balance and consistency, providing the right combination of water and sun to help a particular plant thrive, finding a healthy harmony between management and ‘letting things be’ — just like the right balance of elements for a happy and successful human life. Gardening seems to be art as well as science.
I thought of the sheer magic of sticking a seed into the ground and seeing it transform itself into a flower, herb or vegetable that can be enjoyed for its beauty or brought to the dinner table (or eaten on the spot, like my girls and their carrots, and mine and my granddaughter’s lettuce sprouts!) I thought of how people in shelter settings could learn to work together — and of how the healing power of being in a garden would facilitate that.
Then I pictured a stall at the Farmer’s Market in downtown, where the good people of Dallas were lined up to support formerly homeless individuals who had grown prize-winning organic produce and were offering it for sale. All of the things that had gotten them to that point with a garden would be part and parcel of a skill set that could help them toward self-sufficiency in their lives: cooperation, organization, planning and executing a project, seeing it through to completion, a bit of ‘prayer and magic’ for an auspicious result, and earning some cash off it all to boot.
The idea is something that’s beyond my purview to organize and pull off right now. But I wish someone would steal it and run with it — maybe someone at the Bridge or other shelter facility or non-profit agency downtown. If it happens, I’ll come and help with the weeding, and I’ll be the first in line at the Farmer’s Market stall, cash in hand!