Saturday, April 25, 2009

Starting the Garden for 2009

The garden is starting to take shape. I have planted the flowers boxes out front, although they will not fill in for awhile yet. The planters on the deck are planted with hibiscus and cannas. The pots are starting to fill with home-grown begonias; saliva, more cannas, coleus, and an assortment of planters contain seeds waiting to sprout. Seed packets of more flowers and vegetables are on the kitchen counter, waiting for tomorrow. After a quick trip to the store for some soil amendments and a little work to finish prep, the veggie garden will be on its way. The bunnies know; I have already spotted one laying in wait at the edge of the vegetable plot.

This year I am taking more photos as I go along, a visual journal to supplement the written one I keep of successes and failures.

Gardening is in my blood. My mom and dad always had a huge garden. I spent many spring and summers following daddy as he tilled the soil and prepared it for planting. Following behind that small tractor I learned the smell of freshly turned earth. In my mind there is no sweeter smell. I learned what was and wasn't a weed while helping thin the rows. In that hot South Carolina sun, I learned about the cycles of the earth, early and late planting, the joys of a good harvest, and the needfulness of winter so the earth, plants, and humans could rest.

Mama had a pantry and freezer that she filled to capacity with frozen and canned fruits and vegetables from that garden. She made jams and jellies from berries I helped her pick. Wild strawberries grew in the lower pasture, blackberries and dewberries along the fence rows and edges of the woods.

Mama and daddy's garden was bigger than the lot our cottage sits on. It was in full sun and was blessed with rich soil. My garden encompasses the entire lot around the cottage. I don't call it a 'yard' anymore. It is just the garden. Here in the North Carolina Mountains, we are tucked into a north facing hillside and surrounded by very old, very large trees. The garden is a series of small beds, conforming with the terrain as much as possible to reduce erosion and optimizing the sunlight that does get through.

Below the garden, the joining property is wooded and is a flood plain. There lies the bottom of the garden and the domain of the fairies. There also is the slowly growing area where beloved pets and familiars lie at rest. There, on the north-east corner, below the Fairy Tree.

Tomorrow morning, while the mountain air is still crisp, I will walk the garden as I do every morning. But tomorrow I will be making the final, or nearly final, decisions on where things will go this year. And after that quick trip to the big box store, I will dig and smell that sweet smell of freshly turned earth and remember daddy and the things he taught me. And I will plant hope, for that is, when it comes down to it, what you do when you plant a seed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I played in the dirt today. Spring is here, and there is a spot near my back door that has been crying out for cultivation. Two years ago I moved a very old woodpile from that location. Since it gets plenty of sun, I put a few candy roaster squash in and harvested a bumper crop. Last year it lay fallow.

Many things lay fallow at Shady Hollow last year. It was in April that my husband became ill. It was a long spring and summer filled with surgeries, visiting nurses, therapy, fast trips to the ER and near misses with the Lord of the Underworld. The seemingly never-ending cycle lasted well into fall. While I nursed my husband the garden took care of itself. It endured drought and hardship outside as we dealt with pain, uncertainty, and the shadow of death inside.

Time seemed to stop inside the cottage. Winter came and we learned how to live with my husband in a wheelchair. We learned how to cope with simple things not being so simple anymore. When the Silver Wheel turned and the first crocus emerged to sample the air and then bloom, our hearts sang.

He can no longer walk down the hill to the Fairy Tree and see the back garden from ground level. This bothers him, for we tended the plants and trees there together for nearly 18 years. He can see it from the deck, however, which gives him a birds-eye view. So he hasn't lost the hidden garden, he is just looking from a different vantage point. The fairies, well they come up to visit with him. (Yes, there really are fairies at the bottom of our garden.)

If things go well, the garden spot at the back door will soon be home to tomato and cucumbers with a few flowers thrown in for good measure. The remaining spots will also be tilled and will become home to various other vegetables and flowers. I will once again go into battle with wild honeysuckle and poison ivy vines that are itching to take over. If things go well, the majority of the stain under my fingernails will be Shady Hollow soil and not just the grime from my job at the factory. If things go well, there will be herbs drying in every nook and cranny. Motherwort, mugwort, catnip, sage, lemon balm, bee balm, spearmint, hmmmm, the cottage smells delicious when the herbs are freshly harvested and hug to dry.

So much of what was normal here changed last April. The new normal is far removed from the old. To me, who is as much a crazy plant lady as a crazy cat lady, I regained a little piece of the old normal today. I played in the dirt.