June 16, 2006

One Plant to Rule Them All

Last year I let my garden go to seed. It wasn't by design, it was sheer laziness. I wasn't good about pinching off the basil flowers, and I let the cilantro go. Finally, sometime around October or November, I pulled out the dry tomato plants, the dead cilantro stalks and the dried basil plants.

Again, sloth kept me from starting the garden until about mid-May, a little late. I had this grand scheme to clear an area in the vacant lot next door and start a garden, and sometime in March I actually called the owner to see if he would give me permission to do it. He did, but then I found out about two weeks later that there was a plan in the works to sell the lot, so I figured I had better not start my garden lest I lose it.

In May, Megan persuaded me to get off my butt one weekend and go down to a garden store that she had profiled in the New Mexico Business Weekly. The article covered Trees that Please, which not only sold plants but also this magic dirt formula of bacteria, fungi and humus that rejuvenates soil. We went down and Megan sort of went nuts on plants. She likes tomatoes, so we ended up with 12 tomato plants of different varieties. We also came home with 8 yellow pepper plants, 2 basil plants, a thyme plant and a rosemary plant.

You must understand...we don't have a lot of space for a garden. We have probably a 4 foot square box, really, that was suitable to put plants in, and we had way more plants than would fit into it. The rest of the yard at the house we rent, both front and back, is xeriscaped save for a plot of grass in the back yard. So, I dutifully set out making space. Along the cinderblock fence at the side of the house, where the box is, I cut out about 15 feet of the plastic underneath the soil, to a width of about a foot, and folded it back to expose the ground underneath. I then turned the soil and raked it. Megan had bought some of the magic dirt formula, and I added this to the soil and watered it. The next day, I began planting. The tomatoes went along the fence, the peppers, basil and thyme in the box. I found a place for the rosemary farther down the fence, and made room for the two extra pepper plants along there. I then started daily watering in the early morning.

Once I get into gardening, I get into it. My father was an inveterate gardener who had a huge plot of vegetables each year. He grew corn, potatoes, lettuce, squash, beans, peas, carrots, asparagus, all kinds of things. Gardening was one of the few skills I picked up from my dad, because I would help him in spurts from start to finish -- hoeing and spading, weeding, harvesting -- at least enough that I knew the process. And as I get older, I find that gardening, which used to be such a chore for me when I was a young kid, is actually extremely rewarding to me mentally and spiritually. I truly believe that my father, who was an alcoholic and a pretty unhappy man overall, had some of his best moments in his garden, and even now across the years, it is one of the last ways I have to connect to the better memories of him.

I began, halfway joking, to call my garden "My Precious." In my best Gollum voice, I would tell Megan at about 7:30 a.m., "I'm going out to check on....MY PRRRRRRRECIOUSSSSSSSSSSSS!" Soon, we began using that term all the time about the garden. My sister Pauline called one day, and Megan said she'd get me, that I was out with my precious. Pauline was very confused.

The plants began to take off, and currently Precious consists of a number of healthy tomato plants, and all but one of the pepper plants are doing well -- one even has a nicely growing pepper on it! The two basil plants we purchased are going to town, and the rosemary and thyme are holding their own.

There was one thing I didn't expect. Just last week I went out early one morning to water, the weeds began to catch my eye. I gotta do something about that, I thought. I kneeled down and began to pull out some weeds growing around the basil when all of a sudden, a familiar scent from the first plant I pulled out came to my nostrils. I looked again. Suddenly, I noticed all of these little basil plants coming up all over the place in the box! Then I looked a little, and a few of the plants I assumed were weeds were actually cilantro sprouts!

These were the remnants of my last year's garden, and since then, more have sprung up in the most unlikely locations, spread around by the wind and most likely my shovel. Over amongst the tomatoes along the fence, I've found cilantro and basil sprouting there, mixed in among the weed sprouts. Since that area was xeriscaped until I cut the plastic and folded it back, I can only assume that the seed got there by a combination of nature and my efforts to turn the soil.

I had saved some cilantro seed from last year, and last week I planted it in the box in an unused area along the edge. This week, my row of cilantro is coming up too -- to join its relatives that are spread all over the rest of the garden. But so far the basil is the star, and if it continues to grow at the rate it is, we'll be having a lot of "Precious" pesto this year!


Blogger Mary B. said...

Knowing that I would be moving, I created a 'free floating' garden. My Husky Boy tomatoes, lavendar, basil, rosemary, and my strange little cactus are all planted in huge, plastic pots that will be able to make the trek to Knoxville with me. I love playing with my plants. It feeds something deep within me that I can nurture something into full maturity. Home Depot is one of my favorite spots to window shop these days. When I have a yard of my own someday, I'm going to plant lemon trees. Have fun with your precious! :)

7:33 PM  
Anonymous chantal said...

Oh I SOOO empathize with the enthusiasm bordering on Gollum-like obsession. I actually walk around each morning to see what might have changed overnight.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Pauline said...

One of these days Megan is going to come outside looking for you... she's going to holler, "Michael? Where are you?" and from the middle of the corn rows she's going to hear a resounding "Heay!"

And then it will all have come full circle.

I envy your enthusiasm. I only go for things I barely have to pay attention to, like succulants and strawberries. Unlike you, I have partially inherited Shirley's black thumb. That mixed with Gran's green one makes for sort of a brownish greenish one... sigh.

10:42 AM  

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