It’s early May, and the growing season looks so promising: You’ve weeded beds, added compost, and attached hoses. You’re buying starts and scattering seeds. Your garden looks neat and orderly, the rain’s handling your watering, and after winter’s gray you’re thrilled by the first daff blossoms and garlic shoots.
Fast-forward to late July, and it’s a different story. Your garden has exploded, or perhaps imploded. Weeds threaten to outpace desirables in every corner. Early plants have gone bitterly to seed, and late ones are suffering heatstroke. One day your basil gets a sunburn; to compensate, you overwater and drown your tomatoes. You’ve got 6 activities crammed into every weekend, and your planned garden-fresh dinner is supplanted by takeout. You look out the window, afraid to go deeper into your neglected garden. Why did you do this again? Here’s my secret to enjoying this personal jungle.
When Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly got the “mean reds,” she had a solution: “the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it. Nothing very bad could happen to you there.”
That’s how I feel about stepping into the garden. I’m talking only about stepping in: not digging, not weeding, not harvesting. Just walking into a green, growing space, usually in my PJs with a cup of coffee in my hands. I don’t wait until I get the mean reds: I visit the garden regularly, from the first crocus fighting through the snow until the last snapdragon is buried by it. Just to say hello. Each time I discover a new shoot, blossom, or berry, I think my face probably gets the same look Audrey’s does when Holly walks through the doors of Tiffany’s.
As I make these visits, the garden sometimes is calm, quiet, and proud. More often, it’s cold and soggy or parched and shouting for attention. Looking at it through the window is sometimes enticing but often frightening. Looking at it from the garden path shows you where it needs work but also reveals how well it’s managing on its own. Start the following habits now, and by late July, you’ll realize nothing very bad has happened to your garden.
Good Morning, Garden
Take 5 minutes and walk out into your garden, whether it’s a couple of pots on your deck, a few raised beds, or a half-acre of soft dirt. If you’re at home, go right now. Maybe slip on some shoes, but otherwise go in what you’re wearing: PJs, work clothes, little black date-night dress. Carry a cup of coffee, bottle of water, or glass of wine. Just go and spend 3–5 minutes looking at your garden. Don’t touch anything. Then come back to finish reading this post.
What did you see? Maybe you were distracted by the weeds you missed yesterday. Maybe you spotted slugs eating your cabbage starts. But hopefully you saw a new shoot poking through the soil. Or a new flower ready to burst open. Or a green chive stalk or cilantro leaf you couldn’t resist plucking.
Now do this every day for the next week. Don’t get into grubbies or put on gloves. Go whenever it fits into your day. This is just a chance to say hello to your garden.
How Are You Today?
Before the week’s out, it will become harder to resist contact with your garden. And that’s OK. Pet the herbs: run a hand over the oregano; bruise a mint leaf with a fingernail. Take a pair of shears and snip some tulips for beside your desk or some dill for your eggs. You can even snag a weed or two with your ungloved hands.
Now you’re getting to know your garden. Make a mental note of which plants need attention and which are cruising along. Poke a finger into the soil to check moisture and temperature; if it’s overly dry or wet, adjust the frequency and length of the timer for the next watering (I highly recommend a timer, even if it’s just linked to a couple of soaker hoses). But don’t slip on gloves or grab the trowel just yet. Don’t spend more than 5–10 minutes. For now, you’re just checking in.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (aka the Garden)
When the sun shines and the bees buzz, you won’t want your visit to end. When you have an extra 15 minutes, stay. Pull up a comfy chair: set it right in the middle of your garden. I keep one permanently there, with a “petting pot” beside it holding a few plants that are fragrant to the touch.
Grab a bowl with cereal or a snack, and maybe a book. Or spread a blanket and bring the kids or your partner. Top off the bowls with handfuls of fresh berries, a few lettuce leaves and herbs, or baby veg. Grab whatever is growing dirt free or you’re happy eating once you’ve brushed it off or rinsed it under an outside tap. Sit and enjoy.
If you say hello to your plants and check in regularly, you’ll find it easier to just be in the garden. Yes, it wants to be weeded. And pruned. And watered. And harvested. But none of those things need to happen right now. Gardening doesn’t just teach you to be patient for a seed to sprout or a tomato to ripen. It teaches you to enjoy the wait.
Go Out to Play
Of course, your garden would love your care and attention. Visiting daily won’t change that. What will change is how you view it. The idea of throwing on grubby clothes for an hour of weeding, pruning, or harvesting will become more appealing. You’ll know where to start when you do, know which plants are struggling and which are fine a little wild. You’ll spot dry soil or threatening bugs before your plants are past help. As the season progresses, you’ll know when the zucchini will be the perfect size and when the tomatoes will be lush. Your garden visits will become meal-planning sessions, and you’ll have pasta or a quiche crust at hand when you step out for a couple of zukes, a few toms, and a handful of herbs.
There will still be days you get the blues, when your garden looks bloated or frazzled and you only have energy to bemoan its sad state. There will even be mean red days, when heat, bugs, disease, life, or unknown forces put such a dent in your garden that you want to give up. So remind yourself. Ignore the weeds and the mess and the damage. Find a berry or flower or visiting butterfly. Whether you’re feeding your family or just growing a few pretty things, your garden’s a beautiful, living space that you can’t replicate in your office, your living room, or your shop. And gardens are resilient beasts. They want to grow.
Twice as Tasty
We’re coming to the end of mud season and the beginning of gardening season here in Montana, which means those of you in warmer climes are likely well on your way to fresh herbs, greens, and even asparagus and snap peas. This month’s posts will focus on some of those first treats provided by your garden, CSA, or local farmer’s market. Next week, I’ll share my favorite way to prepare asparagus, as well as a use for those not-quite-tender lower ends. I’ll also offer techniques for saving herbs—in the freezer, in salt, and in sugar—that will keep you savoring their fresh flavor all year. And of course, I’ll encourage you to put some of those herbs and other early greens on your table the moment you bring them in from the garden. See you next week!
Twice as Tasty is preparing to hit the road! I’ll be leaving Montana to tour the Pacific Northwest in just over a week, teaching workshops and sharing good food. There are still a couple of dates available for workshops in the Seattle and Portland areas, and there’s plenty of time to schedule a workshop in Montana’s Flathead Valley in June upon my return. If you are interested in setting up a workshop in your area, contact me.