Gardening: The poor man's yacht


THE ANNUAL blizzard of seed and sapling catalogs has hardly begun, but for weeks now the prospect of this year's garden has been invading my consciousness. The garden fever comes a little early this year, but it is always as welcome as a day in April.

Imagine you could erase every mistake you ever made. Or that you could whack out of your career your every wrong turn. Gardening has some of that magic. Each year brings a clean slate. The weeds that got out of hand last fall are all gone, pinched by the winter and buried under three inches of leaf mulch. And gone with the weeds is the frustration that came from the failure to deal resolutely with them. In its place comes the firm resolve to grow no weeds in 1991. I have schemes and strategies to defeat them, and this year I will win.

fTC Last year brought other setbacks. The carefully laid beet seeds never showed me so much as a ruddy leaf. The eggplants grew to gnarled and barren spinsterhood. My lovely string bean and pea plants fell one moonlit night to a party of ravenous groundhogs. I delayed a week too long in gathering a bumper crop of leeks. That was the week an army of white worms attacked the lovely bulbs and turned some of them to a loathsome slime. There was more.

But there will be no such defeats in 1991. I am fortified now with advice of the gardening equivalents of von Clausewitz and Mahan. Attacks along those fronts this year will encounter a higher order of generalship and a defense in deep depth. Victory is sure.

And last year's successes will be as sweet this year. Nay, sweeter! We will need to stack our zucchini like cordwood to make space for it all. A towering abundance of peppers and cucumbers will fall into our baskets. And the tomatoes! Ah, the tomatoes! It is hard to imagine how this year could surpass last in the tomato department, but we and nature will find a way.

I remember reading somewhere a quote from Andrew Carnegie that anyone who needs to know how much it costs to own a yacht can't afford one. It may be that gardening is a poor man's yacht. Seed and fertilizer and implements all cost money. And labor, even calculated at the minimum wage, adds a bundle. Some gardeners manage to convince themselves that the vegetables they grow save them money. Maybe they do. But to judge gardening the way a bean-counter would is to miss some of its dearest rewards. Gardening offers a fresh start each year. And fresh hope too. For anybody who cares to play.

Gus Crenson gardens in Towson.

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