My Garden of Delights
On an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in December, my wife and I put our community garden plot to bed. We pulled the woody stems of our border flowers and said goodbye to the stalks of kale and chard that were the last survivors in our 10X20 foot plot that had hosted a cornucopia of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, radishes, beets, snow peas, pole beans, bush beans, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, kale, chard, rugala and flowers. As we locked the gate behind us, we said a prayer of thanks for another year of the miracles that issued from this tiny plot of land.
We’ve been gardening for almost 45 years, ever since we first moved to rural New Hampshire from our land-locked Brooklyn apartment. Before that my only garden experiences included a summer in the garden plot carved out of our schoolyard playground, from which I brought home a harvest of kohlrabi that my mother immediately tossed because it was unknown and sinister looking. Then there was my Uncle Jack’s Victory Garden, part of a vast WWII campaign to support the war effort by growing your own food and where I learned about the origin of tomatoes, but that was the end of it.
Our NH gardens became an essential part of our transition from city to country. The plots we cultivated kept growing in size until we were the overseers of what amounted to a small scale truck farm. Every year the dump truck arrived with an intensely putrid load of chicken manure which we turned into the ground as quickly as possible to kill the smell and the accompanying flies. Then there were long days of weeding, spreading mulch, processing the harvest, until the day of the first predicted frost, when we rushed out to the garden to pull the tomato plants up by their roots and hang them in a spare room to allow the tomatoes to continue to ripen. It was part of our education in respecting the unforgiving and inalterable rhythms of nature. You planted when the conditions of rain and temperature were right and you harvested in deference to the power of the killing frost.
These are very different rhythms from those that drive us as urban dwellers which have little to do with the natural forces that controlled human life for eons. The rhythms of the school year, the tax collector and the theater season are man-made, arbitrary. They could easily be re-shuffled in ways that might be jarring initially, but we would learn to adjust.
Not so with the rhythms of nature. So today, near the start of the new year and on the threshold of the first day of winter, I’m beginning to contemplate my seed orders, anticipating the day in late March or early April when that gate in our community garden will swing open again and, if we’re lucky, welcome us to climb aboard the wheel for another spin.