Control, chaos and a patch of green


I guess even the best-laid plans go astray, though I really thought I had it all worked out. This year, I vowed, I wouldn't make myself crazy trying to do everything. This year, I would order plants instead of starting them indoors. I would therefore be able to thoroughly prep the beds, stay on top of the weeding, succession plant for continuous harvest, and finally get the outbuildings and garage in order. This year, the garden -- and my life -- would finally be under control.

Oh, well. At least I ordered plants.

Now immersed in the reality of summer rather than the fantasy of winter, I realize there were a few flaws in the plan, though not all the glitches were my fault. Harris Seeds, from whom I had ordered heirloom tomato, rainbow sweet pepper and hot pepper plants, said they would ship them "at the optimum planting time" for my area. The plants arrived in March. It was sleeting.

Growling, I crawled over the puppy cages that took up the seed-starting area in the kitchen, potted them all and set them in the sun --which meant that not only did I have to tend them for 2: months, I also had to shift them each time I went out so the puppies wouldn't eat them. On the other hand, Piedmont Plant Co. lost my canning tomato plant order entirely, though after I phoned, they shipped a double order at no extra cost by way of apology.

Some problems were beyond my control. The cool rainy weather, a boon to the spring flowers, also jump-started the weeds. The thistles, which are like the Borg of the botanical world, got an especially big boost this year. Shoving aside the guilt, I attacked them, after 25 years of virtually chemical-free gardening, with Round-Up, a herbicide. Four times.

They're still springing up, though Butch Crew, the weed control supervisor for Kent County, assures me that diligent attention with Round-Up will eventually -- over years -- do the trick. Likewise the wire grass. Sort of.

Some glitches were my fault. I let March, April and part of May slip by without planting a single lettuce or carrot seed. I rototilled only in patches. I neglected the west and south perennial beds, so not only do they look like pieces of an abandoned lot, but they are the staging ground from which the apple mint and lemon balm are launching a stealth attack on the vegetable garden.

But some things went right.

Mesclun is poking through, delineating a row I had forgotten I planted late one afternoon in the 15 spare minutes between a meeting and making supper. The rose bush by the garden's southeast entrance, the puny one I stuck there as a last resort after unsuccessfully trying three other spots over the years, has burst forth with scores of fragrant, pink-tinged blooms. They wave gleefully over the strawberry patch, which is dotted with bright red fruit. The raspberries promise a bountiful harvest, something I discovered after my daughter and I squeezed into the bramble-filled lot between the garden fence and outbuilding and yanked out a truckload of dead canes.

For the first time in two years, I managed to get peas in on St. Patrick's Day, filling a long row with handfuls of leftover 2- and 3-year-old seed. I picked the first pods off what turned out to be a profusion of healthy vines the first day of June. My husband, Gary, and I ate them for lunch that day steamed in lettuce. Ambrosia.

This morning, I planted Baccicia, an Italian bush bean, and two hills of pale green Caserta zucchini while one of the puppies, 6 months old now, watched from her first true sit/stay position, despite the temptation that the cow manure I was adding to the bed presented to her. (Dogs view manure as a thrilling multipurpose medium.)

And, despite its imperfection, its steadfast refusal to be subdued, the whole place looks green and healthy.

Ultimately, the real flaw in the plan was imagining I could regiment either my life or my garden. The rhythms of both are too complex, the forces at work beyond my complete control. The best I can hope for is collaboration, a kind of do-si-do with the all the elements -- flora, fauna and human. While the lack of control is frustrating at times, it is a lesson in appreciating the process, the moment-to-moment pleasures of being.

This doesn't mean I want the raised beds to continue to look like flattened sausages garnished with pigweed. It does mean, though, that I will not sacrifice my sanity for imagined -- and ultimately ephemeral --perfection. It just means that, even if I don't have it all together -- and never do -- I'm learning not to make myself crazy over it.

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