Spent a little time working in the garden between rain squalls, hailstorms, and snow flurries on recent weekends. We had a big load of compost delivered that we’ve gradually spread around and used to fill in holes in the rockery. Susan has planted onions, beets, and snow peas so far, and that hardy chard kept going all winter. But in my mind the main reason for a garden is tomatoes, and the promise of them gets me out there with boots and a shovel when I’d rather be doing something else.
Seattle’s growing season isn’t long enough to plant tomato seeds so in May we’ll put in the biggest starters we can find. They’ll get the best seats in the house, too: full sun, good drainage, hardly any rocks, no shade, even a view. And to help protect them from unpredictable temperatures in May and June, we cover the soil under the plants with red plastic, a trick Susan’s Dad showed us to keep the roots just warm enough. (In side-by-side comparisons, the red plastic-covered vines produce more tomatoes that ripen earlier and have more intense flavor than those with either clear or black plastic.)
Susan has always done most of the work in our garden. She plans, plants, and cares for it faithfully, so almost all the credit for our gardening successes goes to her. I tend to garden by inspiration: hit it hard but not necessarily often. Here’s a good example: Trying to find something that got lost in a juniper-covered bank on the corner of our property a couple years ago reminded me that I don’t like the smell of juniper, don’t like how it looks, don’t like its thick, dead undergrowth, don’t like what its prickly branches do to my skin. In fact, as little red welts started to form on my hands and arms, I realized that there’s nothing I like about juniper. I had also seen some evidence of a rockery under all of that ugly shrubbery. That was it. Out came clippers and saws and pickaxe, and in two days I ripped out 30+ years worth of juniper. Good riddance. Even better, we’d exposed about 40-50 feet of beautiful rockery with spaces for planting things we like. Existing plants previously crowded and choked by juniper would be able to grow and spread where we could see and enjoy them.
Fast forward a couple of years. The liberated rockery never looked better, beautifully showcasing old and new versions of rhododendrons, flame-colored, orchid-like azaleas, euphorbia, plumbago, several varieties of hebes, an almost 20 year-old Japanese laceleaf maple, blueberries, different grasses, Spanish lavender, some kind of pine, and more.
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It’s easy to see why gardening is the stuff of parables. That patch of ground in the yard is filled with simple, living illustrations about perseverance, small beginnings, patience, and seeing the end from the beginning. One of my favorite little, little kid stories is Ruth Kraus’ book The Carrot Seed. A boy plants a seed only to have everyone tell him it won’t grow. But he remains confident and carefully weeds and waters until he harvests a wheelbarrow-sized carrot as big as his faith. I like those ways of picturing and thinking about things. However, I’ll know I’ve made some real progress when I actually find myself spending more time rooting around in the dirt.