I did very little to put my garden to bed this year. No kale was covered in oak leaves. No walkways mulched. No tomatoes patches cleared and covered in compost. After weeks of freeze and thaw, I finally went out to check on the fall turnips (they were gilfeathers). I thought they'd be too small to amount to anything, but they weren't. They were all there, and boiled, their greens were sweet and good.
I don't think people who garden need very much. Over the weekend, I put a couple sweet potatoes in water to grow slips. There are dreams of sweet potatoes all next winter. Sweet potatoes and roasted apples and turnip greens.
While I ate my roasted apple and turnip greens, I watched the juncos outside the window. They were eating seeds from the vervain I transplanted there. I hadn't put much thought into that vervain, but it gave me so much pleasure that day. Maybe in a couple years, my garden will get the care I want to give it. But even now, even as it is, it's all still good. It's all still here.
"The fruition of beauty is no chance of hit or miss...it is as inevitable as life...it is exact and plum as gravitation." Walt Whitman wrote that, and I don't know what that means, really. Today someone told me that if you want to build something that lasts, make it beautiful, and I think that's true. I really do.
A couple good things happened in the garden today: ripe futsu were pulled from the squash patch and I saw the caterpillar asleep on a cabbage leaf. I dug a little under the accidental potato plant in the pepper patch and found it more productive than its neighbors. There's something to be said for fall planting, when you can do it; the fingerlings were big, and boiled beautifully.
The okra gets too big before I harvest it. This happens every year. I harvest only a fraction of what the plants produce, but I keep coming back to it. Okra is beautiful and strange and satisfying to watch and satisfying in the stomach. Even just little.
Things that have grown well so far this year: the sonca squashes, the garlic, the potatoes. The August-planted snow peas, the volunteer kale. Next year, bush beans for shelling. Next year, popcorn, again.
During winter, I started flower seeds with such care. Then summer came, and I neglected them. Still, never watered, never tended, the shooting stars persisted, and today I finally planted them around the young-ish white oak. Antonio Machado said that to do something well is more important than doing it, and maybe that's true, but I'm not sure.
Today I sat in the vegetable garden and read about Japanese gardening. I read what Matsuo Basho said, Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn.
I don't have much to say about night gardens. I'm rarely out at night. And when I am, I don't look at flowers much (though down the street a ways is a porch with climbing roses that are lit from behind in a mysterious and wonderful way). What I know, though, is that white is magical at night. I grew a drift of nicotiana for the scent, but I love to look at it, too. Especially when dusk comes and I don't see the unfinished tasks outside. Just white flowers and the dark.
I thought I thinned, but not enough. The peach branches droop down and down, and the fruit is small and blemished. But getting sweet.
Jens Jensen said, "first grow cabbages." Last year, my cabbages didn't amount to anything at all, and it looked like this year would be the same. I've been growing January King, and I figured next year, I should try a quick little summer cabbage instead.
But yesterday, after returning from a couple days away, I went to my garden and found this little head of cabbage forming. Maybe they'll amount to something after all.
Another thing I planted that amounted to nothing: the euphorbia corolatta I started from seed. I didn't know where I was going to plant them, but all the same I felt sorry not to have it growing. It's been a cool August, which puts me in an autumn frame of mind- reflecting and planning instead of eating tomatoes. I used to think there was no such thing as wasting time, but that's changing, and for the better.
Antonio Machado has a poem that says this: And everywhere I've been I've seen / men who dance and play, / when they can, and work / the few inches of ground they have.
Last week I went walking and found a whole hillside of euphorbia. I'll collect the seeds and try again.
This spring the rabbits ate all my parsley seedlings, so I let the bed go to kale, and decided have a summer without parsley. Most years I grow it in abundance. All other things equal, I like life better with lots of fresh parsley than without. It's interesting, though, to dispense with something indispensable for a while.
Last year, I did without cucumbers in the garden. I don't remember why. Maybe so I'd take more joy in them this year. They're my breakfast of choice right now, still scratchy, pulled from the vines before work and eaten whole. I still like beit alpha types best. This year, I grew Mideast Peace cucumber from Adaptive Seeds, and they're good- beit alpha types usually are. I have a soft spot for pickle little pickling cucumbers, too, but I never grow them and don't ever seem to miss them.
If I'm not in a hurry, I like to eat my cucumbers while I walk around the front yard and see who else is there and what they're doing. It's interesting to see who loves what: the hunter wasps swarming the culver's root and mountain mint, the little bees on the blue vervain, the big bees on the hoary vervain, the wild senna that just bloomed and no one is paying any attention to. This was all grass a year or two ago, and I'm proud of these new little spaces, even though a bit unkempt and not elegantly designed. They bring me to far corners of my yard and teach me something.
No one talks about potato flowers, but here they are. Star-like, a little strange, and kind of lovely.
These are the little almond potatoes M planted last fall. It was an experiment to see if fall planting potatoes works (I had heard it does and with higher yields). For a while the experiment seemed like a failure, but in time- weeks after the Carola potatoes- they sprouted. Now- weeks after the Carola potatoes (whose blooms were big and white)- they're flowering. And the plants look wonderful.
Saturday morning I woke early, took my coffee outside with me, and played in the dirt. Those sorts of weekend mornings- sitting barefoot on the ground with a weed bucket and a coffee mug- are a treasure; they are sweet and constant and good.
Pessoa has a poem that I've come back to again. The part I like goes like this:
What's my life worth? In the end (I don't know what end)
One man said: I earned three hundred thousand dollars."
Another man says: "I enjoyed three thousand days of glory."
Yet another says: "I have a clear conscience and that's enough."
And I, should somebody ask what I did,
I will say: "Nothing except look at things,
Which is why I have the whole Universe in my pocket."
The wonderful thing about summer is there's always so much to look at and to touch and to move. Whitman said that the best of earth is always cheaper, easier, and nearer than we think. That's true. That's the point of the garden- don't let it be anything else.
There are annual favorites and perennial favorites, and it can be hard to know the difference. One year it was borage- borage, borage, borage. One year it was Munich purslane.
But let me say, I still grow it all. And enthusiasm doesn't always wane. Black currants please me more every year. They grow without trouble, fruit without fail. Sweet Blackdowns, musky Ben Sarek, gumdrop-sized Crandalls. The smell of the leaves is good. The jam and liquor are a joy and are essential.