We are honored to have Karen Wolfgang back as a guest blogger. She operates the business Independence Gardens PDX. Her first article focused on all of the benefits of starting your own garden. If you have not had the chance to read the post, I would highly recommend it. This next article takes us on a journey of the simple nature of being connected with your own hideaway. The article is a simple, pure and a powerful piece.
I hope that you sometimes find yourself, as I am doing right now, simply thinking “ooh, I’m so lucky!” My garden is one of the many things in my life that makes me feel that way, and I’m writing to explain why.
First of all, I derive a lot of pleasure from many of the elements of my garden for which I am in no way responsible. The previous gardener was all about bulbs: raucous ornamentals that magically appear in the spring and interact with each other in unexpected ways, keeping me on my toes and wondering how DID she do it? I am fascinated. I am enormously entertained by the flowers themselves, the foliage, the accidental(?) juxtapositions–and, of course, by the bees and other critters that come to visit them. I am observing: I am a little too ADD to watch a single bumblebee for more than a few seconds, but I do see it, and I appreciate it, and its erratic flight pattern makes me smile. And then, every once in a while, the way the leaves of the maple move in the slightest breeze catches my attention, and although my eyes don’t always linger, the image sticks in my brain.
There’s a lot more experiential worthwhile-ness to be had, beyond aesthetic appreciation. I also get to know quite a bit about my neighbors, whether I’m sitting outside or working in the garden: who’s a smoker; who fights; which dogs listen (and which certainly don’t); which languages are spoken where; whose kids play with whom… I have a feeling that the habit of gardening helps me pay more attention to the human drama all around me without being intrusive. Perhaps I will have more to share about my neighbors at a later date.
In any case, gardening has helped me become more aware of my environment. It’s also made me more honestly willing to pitch in. With experience, I can now see what needs to happen, which is important; perhaps more significantly, though, I can embrace the fact that if anyone’s going to do the necessary work, it’s going to be me. It’s nobody else’s responsibility, and it is fulfilling. And what’s more: I can in fact do the work that needs to be done, and do it well. Something needs pruned? Check. Dead-headed? No big deal. Invasive grass removal? Yeah, I can tell what’s bad and what’s innocuous. Lawn needs mowed? Wellllll…all right, I admit, I do kind of enjoy pushing around my mulching lawnmower! But the most exciting and confidence-building element of my yard is my edible garden. Oh, how I do love my edible garden.
Although I have my moments, it’s not generally a burden for me to spend time in the garden–surely not in the spring. I go out at least once daily to see if seeds have germinated. I talk to them, when they do: I tell them they’ve done a good job. (I don’t talk too loudly, in case my neighbors are also observing me…or do I?) I look at the delightfully neat rows in the oddly-shaped plantings beds, and I am amused by the contrasts. I think of how tasty the carrots/beets/peas/spinach will be when they’re all grown up. I chuck slugs across the fence. I harvest, I weed, I water, and sometimes I just look.
It seems important to mention that if I have the choice to make, I elect to work within existing constraints. For instance, I went a whole year without tearing out the overgrown iris bed in what was destined to be the edible garden area, even though it had become an invasive grass field (I did take out the invasive grass, though). I gardened next to it, instead, until I really did need the iris space for additional crops, at which point I got some help taking the irises out and gave them away to family members to plant peas, onions, beets, and carrots in their place. Till the other space was filling up, I didn’t see a need to change that area. I have also become aware of some amazing insect activity on “weeds,” and anything that makes beneficial insects happy seems to me important to encourage. For instance, we get crazy-prolific wild onions in the spring, and I leave them there (except the ones that try to elbow aside my tiny vegetables–those have to go).
What it comes down to is that my garden needs me. It might not in fact need me to appreciate it, but it does need me to notice when something’s not going right so I can fix it. It takes sincere effort on my part to collaborate with favorable external circumstances (sunbreaks!) and ameliorate the effects of negative ones (marauding cats). True: a garden that’s TOO dependent on me cannot continue to function in my absence, which is not so good, and which is why perennial, commonly stewarded resources are such valuable community assets. But I’ve encouraged a balanced environment–if there’s healthy soil and enough plant diversity–even in my absence, something will survive and thrive, even if someone else has to steward it, or it has to take care of itself. At least for now, while I’m intimately involved, I’ll try my best to make sure that the something that survives is something I will thoroughly enjoy.