Friday, April 29, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

I grew up with gardening. My dad was a suburban "gentleman farmer." I remember gingerly plucking fat tomato worms off the undersides of pungent tomato leaves. My dad kept a large coffee can that we dropped them in. I think it had something lethal in it, but I never asked. Kerosene? I didn't even like tomatoes as a kid, so I wasn't very interested in the battle against the invaders. It was just one of my chores.

When I finally had a yard of my own, I wanted to have a small garden. It would be my daughter's chance to pick off tomato worms soon. My husband fenced off a small area at the side of our house and I planted zucchini, tomatoes and some herbs.

The weeds got out of control almost as fast as the zucchini. They attacked my garden tools and left me defenseless.

One neglected vegetable grew larger than my daughter. Unfortunately, I learned that these mega-zucchinis taste pretty awful. There is only so much shredded zucchini you can freeze before you start throwing them into the compost pile.

Our garden went on sabbatical. We tried container gardening on our deck. My tomatoes were bad and had to spend the summer in "time out."

Several years later, I tried again and scaled back. I said, "No vegetables! Just flowers." We planted sunflowers and they nearly didn't make it.

About half the plants survived multiple decapitations by our local deer herd. My husband put a wire fence around the survivors. Eventually, they grew taller than the deck railing.

The next year, I thought we could try a vegetable-flower hybrid garden. A few sunflowers sprouted from  seeds from the previous year. We added a few tomatoes and one lonely zucchini plant. It still took over.

But, the highlight of the garden that year were the morning glories.

They started out slowly, but by summer's end they were glorious.

And, that's when we started to get really great vegetables, too.

Not from the garden, though. They came from Sandy Spring CSA. Since I joined the CSA, I've never enjoyed gardening more. The pressure to fend off invaders and diseases has vanished. Our local clay soil isn't a problem, either. My garden can be fun this year. If things get eaten by bugs or smashed in a hailstorm, I won't fret.

After all my failed experiments, I really appreciate what a skilled gardener my dad was. He grew strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, asparagus, green beans, squash. He seemed to do it effortlessly. When you grow up with something, you think it must be easy to do. Ain't necessarily so.

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