Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gardening is For Risk Takers

Gardening has made me more of a risk-taker. Don’t laugh; I’m serious. When I moved into my first home after college, I immediately set off for the local hardware store and bought a flat of impatiens. I planted them in a neat row outside my little house trailer (again, serious). Having grown up in the woods, I knew these particular flowers would grow in the shade provided by the maple tree that sheltered my home. I spaced them exactly as the tag instructed and smiled all summer every time I came home and saw the happy pattern of pink- purple – orange – pink – purple – orange. For the next few years I planted more impatiens and when I moved to a sunnier locale, I planted petunias. I walked past the complicated perennials in their big pots with their big price tags. I didn’t have the budget for that – and what if I killed them as I had every house plant I’d ever offered shelter to? As a gardener, I played it safe.

When my husband and I bought our first house it came with a long gardening history. A huge established perennial bed loaded with coreopsis, iris, dame’s rocket, lily of the valley, coneflowers, and peonies filled the foundation of the old carriage house just outside my kitchen door.  A 60 foot long asparagus bed and tidily contained raspberry patch grew along the edges of the property, along with gooseberries (?) and justaberries (???), strawberries, black raspberries, rhubarb, blackberries, and seven fruit trees! My gardening education took a steep curve upward. Sadly, I must report in the first year alone we killed the peach tree, tilled under the weed-infested strawberries, and could only stare in confusion at the gooseberries and justaberries – what do you do with those?
Our Carriage House Foundation Garden (circa 1996)

My greatest gardening goal was simply not to kill anything else. And we did get better. I learned to freeze and can almost everything we grew.  I even planted more perennials and started an overly ambitious vegetable garden which mostly fed the deer and rabbits. And then I got pregnant and handed my garden over to the weeds and my husband.

Nearly 20 years later, I am a much different gardener. I’m not afraid to plant something I’ve never heard of – what’s the worst that could happen? It could die? It’s only a plant and I’ve killed plenty of them. I used to spend so much time deciding where to locate the endless  stream perennials I ’d purchased that they sometimes died in their pots waiting on my indecisiveness. Now I just stick new plants in anywhere there’s an opening with the full knowledge that if they don’t thrive there I can always dig them up and move them somewhere else.  This year for the first time instead of buying annuals, I grew them from seed indoors all winter – wave petunias and rainbow petunias, illumination amaranth, dragon coleus, and lemon cream calendula!     
I prune my fruit trees with abandon even though I’m never completely sure if I’m taking too much off or too little. They’re just trees, I remind myself. My husband had an idea for training our grapes and I said, “Sounds great!” Nothing we’ve done to date has resulted in a grape crop worth bragging about, so why not try something else? Several of our fruit trees have produced only leaves for several years, so this past year I dumped multiple buckets of horse poop around them and invited local beekeepers to bring their bees here to live (actually the bees are just squatting for the season and they’ll go home in the fall). I didn’t have mulch for my blueberries two years ago, so I layered empty feed bags weighted down with rocks all around them. It’s not pretty, but that’s not what gardening is about (at least in my book). It’s taken quite a while but my new found motto for gardening is, “Why not?” I’m no master gardener, but I’m tired of doing what the book says – now I do what my whim says.

Our latest garden reconstruction project stalled when the landscaper with the big earth-movers got backed up thanks to all the rain we’ve had this spring. This means I still haven’t planted corn, zucchini, pumpkin, or Chinese lanterns beans. I’m crossing my fingers that the project will happen this week and as soon as it does, I’ll plant my three sisters garden. Sure, it’s pretty late in the season. Sure, they may not make it to harvest. Sure, the soil will not be the best stuff I’ve got around here. But despite all that’s against, me I’ll take that risk and plant my seeds. What have I got to lose? Who knows maybe winter will come late. Spring surely did.

There are plenty of risks in life that are scary, life-altering, even life-changing, but when it comes to gardening there’s not really any risk, despite what I say. They’re just plants, after all. So plant it, move it, rearrange it, cut it back, do whatever you want – it’s your garden. Don’t let knowledge (or lack of), expectations, your neighbor, your husband, or your own doubt keep you from having the garden of your dreams. A garden is a great place to practice your risk-taking skills. And who knows, it might inspire you take on a real risk, maybe bee keeping or candle making!

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