Sunday, May 12, 2013

No More Rows!

Almost too pretty to cut.
Small as it is, my home vegetable garden has always seemed like work, as opposed to the rest of my garden, which is my place to play. Thanks to my lettuce, I believe I have discovered why. 

I allowed a couple of lettuce plants to develop flowering stalks last summer, that is, to “go to seed.” As a result, my lettuce germinated very early in spring. The comet-shaped drifts of reds and greens were so beautiful and so robust that I didn’t have the heart to regiment them. I seeded a tail onto the comet, so as to extend the season, and tucked in four broccoli hybrids—two each of ‘Apollo’ and ‘Happy Rich’—where the lettuce stopped. A cover crop of vetch and winter rye grew tall in much of the rest of the garden, but in the spot where it was sparse I sowed a sprinkling of arugula seeds and arranged three Toscano kale plants. 

Lettuce planted in fall had a big head start!
Yesterday after the rain I pulled the rye out, cutting the green from the roots, and sprinkled another drift of lettuce seeds. When the rye breaks down a bit I will fork the residue into the soil. And the time will be right for tomatoes, supported by colorful spiral stakes, and placed to please. As they grow tall they will shade the greens. I will position a handful of pepper plants and two or three skinny towers of pole beans in some aesthetic, as yet undetermined, pattern. I picture orange and yellow nasturtiums scrambling among them. 

Rye is severed. Soon there will be tomatoes!
I feel liberated. From rows. This is, after all, the way I garden. What makes gardening play is the not knowing what, exactly, is going to happen when I go outside with my bucket, pruners, and cobrahead weeder.  Not knowing what, exactly, my next move will be. If larkspur is looking lush and overabundant I will gravitate in its direction, and thin the crowd. Midway into the task I may notice foxglove seedlings that can be relocated to complete a picture that lives in my head, or coreopsis plants that need a little love. I cultivate the soil around the clumps of emerging perennials, mentally placing the gomphrena and asclepias seedlings I will plant when the weather warms in the next week or two. I weigh different spots for the cutleaf lilac my son is propagating for me. Invariably I will set my pruners somewhere in the grass, or on a rock, or in a pot—hidden from sight. So I retrace my labyrinthian trail, in the process discovering a clematis that needs gentle guidance as it climbs, or a hydrangea that needs artful shaping.
Plans—in the garden, that is—are made to be changed. Gardens are meant to be played in. “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation,” wrote Plato. The same, I believe, is true of nature. 

So yes I can be undisciplined in the vegetable garden. Yes I can abandon the restraint imposed by rows.  

My lettuce has given me permission.

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