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.
This is nothing new; everybody knows that where you look matters. There are all those studies about hospital patients doing better when they can look out a nice window, students being kinder after staring at a tree. But let me also say this- that it's not a bad chore to thin the apples or the peaches, but I'd hate to thin strawberries. There's something to be said for standing tall, for looking up and out.
I thin apples like this: keep only the best of the cluster- bonus points if it's not scarred with a little moon of plum curcurlio. I thin peaches like this: say I'm leaving one plum every six inches, but often leaving more. The spongy moth caterpillars are everywhere in my neighborhood, and when I'm out thinning fruit, passersby presume I'm on a caterpillar hunt. I see plenty, and kill all I can.
Another thing you should know: it's cotton season. Not everyone likes summer. I didn't once, but now I do. I see this overhead on a road, and I think of what Whitman said about "divine things well envelop'd." First the the cotton in the trees, then more.
The grape vine keeps growing, looking for something to hold onto. A cardinal made a nest inside, right against the kitchen window. When I do dishes, she scowls at me, and I'm just happy to be there.
Right now, the best place in the garden is this place: the lettuce (kagraner sommer) I almost didn't plant, the dill that sowed itself, the cabbage that never amounted to anything last year, and might not amount to anything again.
Sitting in the garden is very important. On a warm day, I like lying down even better. G.K. Chesterton wrote that essay about lying in bed that starts with "Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if one only had a colored pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling." Lying in the vegetable garden is a perfect and supreme experience. I used to mulch my paths with wood chips, but they're no good for this. Oak leaves are better, though they stick to your clothes and hair. A job isn't done until it's enjoyed.
I fought this grape vine for three years, then I stopped fighting. Now I love it. It's nice to look out at the kitchen sink through green leaves. I can see the little pear tree there, and the geranium planted at its base. I love that tiny geranium though it's no different from any of the other thousands of wild geraniums out this May. Walt Whitman asked Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me? Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me the sunlight expands in my blood? These might be the only questions I care about.
Lying in the garden today, I was reading Turgenev. He wrote about lilacs, and so did Whitman. So did everyone. Lilacs don't make any sense- they're not that pretty, and what beauty they have isn't there long. But here they are, and here I am, smelling the lilacs again. The ones that blossomed pale in the heat have opened further now and have gone purple as the weather cooled. I can't tell if these two-toned bunches are gorgeous or ugly. The truth is, it doesn't matter to me at all. They're here such a brief moment. That's beauty enough.
On the way to my daughter's school, there's a square that's been cut out of a lawn, and in it, two purple pasque flowers are blooming. The square is probably six inches wide, just big enough for what it holds and no bigger. Gardens like this are some of my favorites. Are they gardens? I've been told that the words "guard" and "garden" are related, and that a garden should be about enclosure. Those pasque flowers aren't about enclosure at all. They're just a little present, tucked right up against the sidewalk.
My own garden is looking less demure than those pasque flowers right now. It was hot last week, and everything grew dizzyingly fast. The lilacs that bloomed in the heat are all very pale, and so are the blossoms on the weeping crabapple tree in my front yard. They've always been the color of raspberry stain, but this year, they're a white froth, and I love them much more than I ever did before.
The potatoes are coming up. The strawberries are blooming. I've done so much less than I would hope to, but everything looks beautiful, anyway. And healthy and good and a bit riotous. The chives are full, and I've been cutting them by the handful to blend into a sludge with salt and oil. I put in another quince tree, and three cherry bushes, and three clove currents, and a struggling juneberry that is sprouting along its stems.
Speaking of riotous, a pair of catbirds is building a nest in the blue spruce outside my bedroom window. The way they sing is so jaunty and such a jumble. They talk and talk all morning, then talk and talk all evening. Every year I think about cutting down that spruce tree. But I love those catbirds.