It’s April 28th in the Northeast. It should be warm enough outside to begin planting a small veggie garden but my computer screen tells me it’s only 42 degrees and the sound of my furnace kicking on and off reminds me of how chilly it is.
I’m not a great gardener. When I bought my house 24 years ago it had wonderful patches of perennial flower gardens and I have tended to them; separated and moved plants when necessary. They are still thriving. It always seemed I was too busy to tend to a veggie garden. When I was “semi-retired” I spent most of my time during the warm weather up north at my camper so anything I planted at home either died of thirst or morphed into an overgrown, unrecognizable version of its original self.
I love garden books. I love reading about garden design and planting and looking at pictures of successful gardens. One of my personal goals is to visit Monet’s garden at his homestead in Giverny, France, before I become a flower myself. I read a wonderful book about Monet’s garden written by a woman who was hired to restore the garden to Monet’s original design. He laid out the garden like his paint pallet, and when it’s in full bloom the colored flower beds flow from one shade to another to another.
One year I was feeling particularly industrious and planted what was a very large veggie garden in my back yard, at least it was large for me. Before I tilled the soil and planted the garden, I made Saturday morning trips to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and organic farm in Ghent, NY, where I attended gardening classes. The school and farm are a good hour and a half car ride from home but I was charmed by their back-to-nature philosophy.
My son was in third grade at the time and I considered sending him to a Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs. Waldorf teaching philosophy is built upon respect for nature. For example, the teachers take the kids outside and look for twigs that are in the image of letters of the alphabet, one of the classrooms at the Hawthorne Valley School was built around a living tree that sprouted from below the floor and its branches stretched to the ceiling. Ultimately, I decided not to send my son to the Hawthorne School because they expected their students to never look at TV or play computer games, etc., and even though he was only in third grade, my son had grown up with those things. It seemed to me that trying to wean him from the technological world at that point might leave such a bad taste in his mouth that it would defeat the purpose of a Waldorf education.
Back to the garden … I loved the classes at the Ghent farm. We visited a local who tilled her garden with a horse and old fashion till hooked to a harness. We shoveled egg shells and garbage into huge compost piles and learned about the goodness of organic soil. I would come home so charged with ideas. During that spring I created a considerable compost pile of my own and I happily tilled, minus the horse, of course, a large patch of my suburban back yard then covered it with organic topsoil from the bags and bags of soil that I carted home from Ghent. The last day of class was a sad day for me.
Back in the suburbs I planted rows of tomatoes and green snap beans, summer squash and zucchini and even six or eight rows of corn. As soon as he got up each morning my young son would run to the window to see what might have grown overnight. After breakfast we’d go outside and walk up and down the rows to see what had changed since the previous morning. In the evening we’d go outside and water the garden and most of the time we’d water each other. When we harvested our first tomatoes we almost felt like we were eating our livestock!
Everything I planted thrived, except for the corn. Corn needs to have a his and her so that cross pollination can occur. I was careful to plant them correctly, but for some reason, the doves in my neighborhood seemed to have had it in for the corn. I looked out one morning when the corn was only about a foot high and saw two doves slowly walking down the rows of corn, pulling the newly sprouted corn stalks out of the ground and flipping them over their shoulders. I would have been less annoyed if they were eating the stalks, but it seemed they were the hoodlums of the dove community and were pulling them up for the pleasure of it all.
After that summer life got more complicated and other than a few tomato plants the wonderful veggie garden faded away. Up north, I have planted a few veggies near my camper, but there is no way to keep the critters at bay, so anything I plant grows to a certain point and then disappears into the stomach of one of my furry neighbors. There was even a deer or two that would walk out of the misty woods on summer mornings onto the dirt road in front of my camper and eat the rose buds on my prickly rose bush. If I was awake, I watched them through the window blinds.
Last night after work I stopped and bought a little sprig of a tree, my homage to Arbor Day and couldn’t resist buying a few herbs; basil, English thyme and dill, my favorites. As I type this they are all sitting out in my garage waiting to be planted and images of those wonderful English kitchen gardens outside weathered wooden doors are floating through my head. It feels like this may be the year of another wonderful veggie garden.