Gardening is about optimism. I look through the catalogs in winter and read articles about plants and vegetables, dreaming of what this year’s garden will be like. I am excited to order seeds and get excited all over again when they arrive. I dream of fresh veggie dishes as I ponder the cold and snow outside.
Sometime in the spring I plan out the garden — which plants can tolerate the shadier places, which require trellising, and what I’ll plant where. I also make a list of the plants I want to buy — tomatoes and usually summer squash, since the squash grow prolifically from seed and I only want a few plants.
I can break up my compost pile in early spring, working the rich compost into the raised beds to allow it to merge with the previous year’s soil. Once I’ve pulled out the old plants, weeds and any unidentified roots I come across, the beds are ready to plant.
My ‘best laid plans’ are precisely followed with requisite spacing, assignment of staking and trellis materials and setting up the watering system. I can see it will be a fantastic year, plants neatly ordered in rows, and piles and piles of vegetables to eat and share.
Of course, weather and dog- or cat-induced digging in the beds changes everything — dream meets reality. But I still hold out that the carrots will come up, even of not in the neat rows I planted. I have had problems with cucumbers from seed over the years, but I always plant some, then buy plants later when the seeds haven’t made it. I may have to modify my expectations to account for the peas not growing and the pet-assisted mixing of the chard, carrots and beets, but I still see a marvelous garden in my mind.
A bit after they have sprouted, I thin the lettuce, beets, chard and radish and have an early season treat of fresh baby greens. The dream is still alive — and now we wait.
I check the progress daily at first, then gradually taper off that routine. Other summer chores intrude and everything seems to be going okay, except for all the things that aren’t. Well, peas weren’t that big a deal anyway, maybe I’ll pick some up at the farmer’s market. The cukes will be late but maybe the plants will grow faster than the seed would have. I tamp down my expectations for the beets and chard, but I believe the tomatoes and carrots may be on track. My dreams have changed, but the garden in my mind is still wonderful.
I try not to get too complacent; I’ve had disappointments in the past. The pumpkins and winter squash used to grow prolifically and while they required a lot of space, it was always a very good return. That is, until late summer when the entire neighborhood population of squirrels found they could chew a hole in the rind, then crawl in to eat the seeds inside.
I do the necessary thinning, and check that the beans and cukes are properly trellising. It’s beginning to look like a real garden; most of the seeds have sprouted and the plants are looking more or less like they should. I accept that my idea of perfect rows may be passe, but it does look like a garden.
I dream of fresh tomatoes, red and juicy with a dash of salt and pepper. Or freshly-picked carrots, orange and crunchy with just the earthy hint of clean soil. A bloody beet and tangy radish, sliced into a salad of still-damp lettuce. Snap a bean off the vine and munch it while standing in the garden trying to decide of the cukes are ready to pick.
I waken hungry and must go out to see if my dreams have come true overnight, knowing that I still have weeks to go.
But I can wait. It will be worth it.