"But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last."writer, naturalist, lepidopterist
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love to garden and those who don't.
Let's be clear: I'm no garden ho'. I wish I loved gardening, I really do. I truly appreciate a beautiful garden, and I love the idea of gardening. But actual gardening — not so much. My perennials perennially perish, my vegetable garden is fruitless, and my annuals barely take root.
My mom had a magnificent garden at her last house in Michigan, complete with herbs, flowering trees, bordering perennials, and even a koi pond (thanks to my husband) teeming with colorful fish and water plants. She assured me that gardening when you have young children is too much to ask of anyone, but that once my children were grown and gone, I, too, would love to garden. That was right before she and my dad moved to Florida — primarily to get away from any form of garden or lawn care.
I've been doing a lot of walking in my neighborhood this spring and summer (trying to convince myself that exercise, like gardening, is good for me — but that's another post). What passes for spring in Chicago came late this year, but by now the gardens have been painted into the landscape. While bulbs and lilacs may have faded, roses are gushing and peonies are panting to break loose from their confining rings.
Even the annuals are filling in nicely — in other people's gardens, thank you very much. My daughter and I planted a flat and a half of begonia's around the base of our "small" tree, and they still look puny and separated, not the lush pink area rug of blossoms I had envisioned.
Last summer, I ventured one cherry tomato plant in a pot. It cost me $2.48 and yielded about nine edible fruits, which would probably have run me about $2.48 at Dominick's, so it was basically a wash. This year, we tried two tomato plants (one has since passed away); herbs, including basil, rosemary and lemon balm (all doing quite nicely in their containers); and, at my daughter's insistence, a bell pepper plant. I have no idea how to grow peppers. Do I need to pinch? Prune? Deadhead? Oh, well, we bought the $1.98 version, so we won't be out that much when it bites the dust.
I kind of like the "container garden" thing. They're easy to plant, require little maintenance and look lovely on the porch steps. It almost appears as if a real gardener lives in our house — until you see my neighbor's garden, two doors north.
Can you say obsessive-compulsive? The guy (and his gardener) are always tinkering (or is it puttering when you are in the garden?) — planting something new here, moving this plant over there. Sure it's beautiful, but who has that kind of time and energy? Self-employed people with no kids, who have enough money to hire a gardener, that's who.
I would garden if you could do it only three times a year:
- that first perfect day in March, when you are so happy to be outside after the long winter that you kill yourself doing yard work and can't move for the next week;
- one planting session sometime after Mother's day, when you are finally sure the last frost has passed, and you feel supremely satisfied about getting everything in the ground that you were tempted into buying at the local garden center;
- a single 1-to-2-hour weeding session in mid-to-late July, after you have sufficiently recovered from the May planting session, but while it still seems worthwhile to spend time on plants that are just going to die in the fall anyway.
I know to many of you this kind of thinking verges on sacrilege. I know I'm supposed to care about the inextricable relationship between humans and plants. I know this because I read Michael Pollan's fabulous treatise, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. I know I'm supposed to want to grow and eat my own vegetables, because Barbara Kingsolver made me feel guilty about it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.
But here's the thing — I'm allergic to insect bites. I've tried to find passion in the rich, brown soil of the garden, but all I've found is dirt under my fingernails. I've searched for satisfaction in a good day's worth of gardening, but all I have discovered are sore knees and screeching lower back pain.
Isn't it enough that I can appreciate the beauty and bounty that a well-tended garden yields — preferably through my picture window, or in a vase on my coffee table, or overflowing from the rich, brown depths of my wooden salad bowl?
A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.
— Charles Baudelaire, French Poet (1821-1867)
What's your gardening story — death or glory? Click here to tell us about it. And if you find your vegetable garden overfloweth, we will gratefully accept any and all surpluses.
See my latest Chicago Moms Blog post on the recent spate of celebrity deaths by clicking here.
Photos: Tulips in Chicago and Pot Garden in Florida; 2kop.