Jessie Raymond: Gardener’s hope wilts late in season

Dear Fine Gardening magazine,
It is with great sadness that I request that you cancel my entry in your Gardener of the Year contest, Vegetable Division. Turns out, I don’t stand a chance.
I knew better than to even enter the Flower Garden competition. As you may have read in my application, we have two goats — but no goat fence. The goats treat my flower beds the way teenage boys would treat a McDonald’s drive-through on Free Big Mac Day.
This year, I decided to take a break. Instead of wasting hours trying to make the flower beds look nice, I figured I’d let the goats have their way with them. At the end of the summer I’d make note of what they ate and what they left alone so I’d have an idea of what I could concentrate on next year.
That experiment failed. Goats, being the most contrary creatures on earth, haven’t touched the abandoned flower gardens all summer.
You might assume they just don’t like the taste of weeds. But the truth is they only get into the garden when they know it will upset me.
I can prove this. Yesterday I stood on the back porch and, looking pointedly at my largest flower bed, said in a loud, slow voice I knew the goats could hear, “Phew, I’m so happy my phlox made it this year.”
Within 30 seconds both goats had vaulted into the garden to dine on the very phlox I had referred to, pausing only to flash me sly grins now and then.
For reasons only the goats know, however, they don’t bother my vegetable gardens. So what could stop me, I reasoned, from being Vegetable Gardener of the Year?
A dog, actually.
It took me many years to figure out that vegetable gardens aren’t “set it and forget it” propositions (the way house cleaning and child rearing are). Once I accepted that routine maintenance was the best strategy for success, the garden has improved with every passing year. I thought surely 2014 would be worthy of recognition.
I had not anticipated how adopting a dog would work against my gardening efforts. It’s not that he digs the garden up (he prefers to dig in the middle of the lawn). It’s that in early June I started taking him for hikes every morning — just a couple of miles at a time, nothing heroic, just enough to tire him out while I’m at work.
And there’s the problem: Our daily hiking time has replaced the time I used to devote to the garden. Despite my petitioning the government for more hours in the day, no one has gotten back to me with a workable proposal. For the time being at least, I’m limited to 24 hours when I really need 24 hours and 45 minutes.
For the sake of the garden, I should give up the hikes, but I can’t. They have become part of our daily ritual, and they’re invaluable in keeping both the dog and me calmer and less inclined to eat the sofa.
Given the weed growth in the vegetable plot, I can only reach produce on the perimeter. I will need tougher clothes, a scythe, and perhaps an experienced guide to infiltrate the weed wall to where there may or may not be more vegetables growing. And even if there are, what of it? If I have any long lost zucchinis in the undergrowth, I’ll need a tow truck to get them out.
As much as I hate to face the garden these days, I needed cilantro last night. Heading out to the 20-by-45-foot jungle, I braced myself to confront my failure — but there were some signs that all is not lost. I discovered that my 32 tomato plants (I am nothing if not ambitious) have not been fazed by my neglect. I can see hundreds of nearly ripe fruits hanging from the plants; I just can’t get to them, as the garden paths are entirely overgrown with what may in fact be man-eating weeds. (I’m probably exaggerating the danger, but they do growl when they see me.)
While it is clear I don’t deserve your Gardener of the Year award this year, I’m not going to give up on the vegetables just yet. This weekend I plan to make an expedition to the darkest reaches of the garden and harvest what I can.
If you don’t hear back from me by the first frost, please cancel my subscription.

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