Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Left alone, the garden thrives

Around the second week of June, Mark said, “Stop whining. If you don’t have time for a vegetable garden this year, just skip it.”

The absolute nerve.

It’s not a choice. My garden has become part of my identity. I struggle. I complain. I get stressed. But I have to have a garden, if only for the fresh tomatoes. Plus I love the surge of superiority I feel when I tell people, unprompted, how many months our potato harvest lasted last year. (They just blink, as if they don’t know what to do with that information. But I know they’re secretly envious.)

I wouldn’t call gardening fun, but I relish the challenge of me against nature: the cucumber beetles, the clay soil, the smartweed, the deer flies, the blossom end rot. Once in a while I get distracted by awe: How do a few tiny seeds turn into all these veggies? But mostly I’m dogged by the feeling that the garden is out to get me, and I must fight back.

Last year, I toiled endlessly and was rewarded with an abundant harvest. The harder you work, I thought, the better the results. This year, however, I learned that’s not necessarily true.

This spring, between our kitchen renovation and the weather — which included nearly constant rainfall and a May heat wave that had me pricing one-way flights to the Nunavut Territory — I was frantic; I just could not get the garden planted on schedule.

I didn’t give up, but I did scale back. It was too late for peas, for example, and I decided not to waste my time on onions, which for me never grow larger than golf balls and aren’t any easier to peel.

I also bailed on sweet corn. Last year, I missed the optimal harvesting window (which lasts 15 to 20 minutes), and all the picking, shucking, cutting, blanching and freezing I did yielded bags and bags of starchy kernels that tasted like water and had me bulk buying dental floss.

What I did do in late June, between rainstorms, was go out to the garden and weed a few square feet now and then, making just enough space to plant another crop. And then I pretty much relaxed indoors for the next two months.

The barrier to working in the garden is high, given that for some reason we put it a day’s hike from the house. In reality, if I want green beans for dinner, I can save time by walking to the supermarket instead.

Granted, the spot is ideal for growing, as it lies on a gentle incline with good exposure. But, having reached that point in life where I often enter a room and wonder why I went in there, I find the location a drag. It’s nothing for me to trudge 10 minutes out there to plant lettuce before remembering I left the seeds on the kitchen table. The distance also makes it easy for me to forget, now and then, that I even have a garden.

Luckily, it rained so much right through July I didn’t have to worry about watering. I liked that part a lot. And on the days it wasn’t raining, it was so hot I wasn’t inclined to go out there. In a moment of self-discovery, I realized I enjoy gardening a lot more when I don’t do it.

Citing the rain and/or the heat, I leaned into the whole gardening-avoidance vibe all summer, right up until last Friday. That’s when the latest heat wave broke (after almost breaking me).

I was out of excuses.

Now that the weather is moderate and dry, I have to slog out to the garden every damn day, watering, weeding and discovering I left the clippers or the twine back at the house. But until now, it’s been almost effortless.

I won’t lie: It doesn’t look pretty out there. I’ve only bothered to carve out small open spaces for my vegetables among vast swaths of four-foot-tall weeds. But somehow, everything is growing with gusto. In fact, I’m expecting my best harvest ever.

Some will give the credit to this year’s fortuitous balance of rainy and sunny days. Others (chiefly me) will say it’s due to my clever mastery of benign neglect.

Either way, the results speak for themselves. Soon I’ll be telling everyone how many months’ worth of potatoes I harvested. And trust me: This year there’s gonna be a whole lot of envious blinking going on.

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