SPRING IS IN THE AIR…
…and the seed catalogs are in the mail.
Me? I’m not much of a gardener. I enjoy perusing the catalogs and imagining those riotous splashes of color in my own back yard, and I love the sight and scent of blossoms from the first crocus to the last chrysanthemum*. I like eating home-grown vegetables and fruits that have never seen the inside of a greenhouse or encountered an insecticide or herbicide. But when it comes to the actual cultivating of said blossoms and veggies – no, thank you. I’m the cat, duck, and pig in the Little Red Hen story. Gardening is simply something I’ve never gotten into.
I’ve thought about it, and I think I know why. We’re all creatures of our upbringing, right? (Say “Right”. Thank you.) Well, my father, true to his Italian heritage, loved to grow things. He coaxed azaleas, hydrangeas, roses, crocuses, tulips, pyrocantha, a pretty little China Rose bush, and an ethereally beautiful mimosa tree out of our hardscrabble little garden every year. And he grew tomatoes in the back yard: a single row of scrawny plants—because that was all there was room for – and every summer we got misshapen, blotchy, and utterly delicious tomatoes out of those plants.
My Scottish mother, on the other hand, could probably recognize a rose, a lily, and a daisy; but I suspect if it wasn’t also a common girl’s name, it was just “a flower”. And true to her heritage, she believed that if it didn’t come in a can or a Birds-Eye Frozen Vegetables box, then God obviously didn’t intend for us to eat it. The closest she came to gardening was putting a bouquet of flowers into a vase when it was handed to her by a guest arriving for dinner (and since she was usually involved in stirring the gravy** at that point, she generally would just hand me the flowers – “Here, put these bletherin’ weeds in something!”).
And I, it seems, am a combination of these two completely opposite gardening philosophies. Which means, when it comes to flowers, that I can identify them, choose them, plant them, and eagerly wait for them to sprout and bloom; when it comes to vegetables, I can plant them, plan menus around them, and anticipate eating my own healthy, flavorful produce.
But once they are in the ground, they are on their own.
My reaction to sickly plants is to rant at them. “What, are you kidding me? This is New Jersey: the Garden State. The GARDEN STATE!!! The weather’s temperate, the sun’s not too strong, we average one day in three of rain, and even if it doesn’t rain we’re so godawful humid you should be able to absorb more than enough moisture through your pores***. Look around you. There’s green everywhere: moss growing between the bricks, dandelions sprouting from the sidewalk, weeds thriving in rain gutters, jungles growing on abandoned tracks. And you can’t grow? Give me a break.”
And I’m worse when it’s food, mostly because when I see the caterpillars on the carrots, or watch the squirrels steal the cherry tomatoes, or find that the deer and rabbits have decimated every plant I was going to include in dinner for the next three months, I turn softhearted. I decide I’d rather have butterflies than eat carrots; the squirrels are fun to watch as they bound back to the woods with the tomatoes in their mouths; and the deer and rabbits have to eat something, right? because they can’t run over to the Acme, but I can.
But maybe you’re not; maybe you have the gardener’s soul that I lack; maybe you are the Little Red Hen**** who will plant and cultivate and tenderly care for your garden while people like me selfishly enjoy the fruits. And if you are, then these sites might be for you:
Master Gardeners of Mercer County has a great site with monthly tips.
About.com: Gardening has both a “Vegetables and Fruit” and a “Flowers” section, as well as links to Getting Started, Pests & Problems, Container Gardening, Gardening with Kids, and more. If you’re thinking of starting a garden, it’s a very nice site to browse.
Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, PA, has a website with an EducationalResources link where you’ll find PDFs on many gardening topics, including container gardening, composting, eco-gardening, pest management, ornamental grasses, planning a vegetable garden, and lots more. Have you ever been to Longwood Gardens? They obviously know what they’re doing. You can’t go wrong with this site.
The University of Delaware CooperativeExtension site has information on fruit & vegetable gardening, integrated pest management, invasive plants, and plant selection. Their brochure on “livable lawns” is especially interesting.
Photo 1: Black-Eyed Susans from my back yard. My husband’s the gardener, not me.
Photo 2: Hydrangea from my back yard.
Photo 3: Cosmos from my back yard.
Photo 4: Wildflowers from my back yard. My husband brought the last of the wildflowers in just before Sandy hit.
Photo 5: Flowers at Longwood Gardens, where they obviously know what they’re doing.
* I spelled that right on the second try, without looking it up. Just wanted to point that out.
** From a mix, of course.
*** Do plants even have pores?
**** I know, I know, I know! This is not an apropos comparison. The Little Red Hen did not share her bread with her lazy neighbors. For the purposes of this blog, however, we’ll pretend she did. Literary license.