Can I just say that the path to being a good gardener is laborious, at best? Spring is here, the monsoon time has started, and the naturally occurring fauna (read:weeds) is (are) sprouting. Everywhere. Even on my front porch, which is made out of cement, by the way. It’s overwhelming.
I remember growing up and observing my parents taking meticulous care of the earth surrounding whatever living establishment we happened to land in. I grew up a Navy-Brat (the very best kind of brat), and literally lived somewhere new every two to three years up until I departed for college at age eighteen. My parents were not necessarily as neat and meticulous inside the house, but the outside was manicured and beautiful, no matter if we were renting, living on base, or living in a house they owned. We even lived in an apartment in Germany for three years, and I have vague memories of green plant things happening there, too.
My dad grew up in North Dakota. Yes, people actually live there. He was the youngest of seven and he grew up on a farm. I don’t think the farming gene ever leaves farm people. I remember my dad farming something in every place we lived, even if it was just tomatoes out of a pot. My mom grew up the oldest of three in the South (with a capital S). Just like farming can’t be taken out of the farm kid, South can not be removed from a southern girl. We always had flowers. She knew the name of all of them, and copiously (and fervently) planted every spring, in a race to get “the plants in the ground” before... Before, what? Before they died maybe? I don’t even know. It just felt like a race. Needless to say, our yard, garden, flowers, vegetables, always looked awesome. And there is nothing that beats the taste of a just picked tomato- for real, I’m just sayin’
I totally recall saying to my mother when I was old enough to hate being a sweaty teenager that I would never, ever garden like she did. I wouldn’t need to complain about the heat, an early frost, or a proliferation of squirrels, because I’d just have a yard, and that’s it. I could care less about the flowers, the yard, or lack thereof.
So, you can probably guess what is coming, right? I’m not sure when the shift happened, but one day (suddenly, and to the surprise of both my husband and me) I did care, I decided. I wanted the flowers, the grass, and the vegetables. I wanted a yard without weeds. I wanted the grass trimmed regularly. I wanted all of it.
Here is the thing, though: Much like cooking, which I never enjoyed, therefore I never paid attention to, I have no farming or gardening inclinations whatsoever. A green thumb? Mine must be black! I can’t ever remember what "zone" I’m in, and I can’t tell the difference between a dead plant or a dormant plant. There must be at least thirty-seven species of grass that make up my lawn, and just last year I learned how to work the lawnmower, only because Mark was out of town, and we’d had thirty days of rain (remember that last Spring?) and it was necessary to mow, because of snakes. I’ve seen the snakes. They are of the Copperhead variety. No, thanks. I have kids and dogs, so the Serengeti grass had to go.
Gardening to me, sometimes feels like I’ve been sick from school for a week (or thirty years) and I am trying to catch up on all the work I’ve missed! I’m sure the librarians are chuckling under their breath every March when I check out as many gardening books as I think I can understand (I need colorful pictures and simple language and steps... numbered steps... with more pictures). I’ve learned a few things (aside from how to work a lawn-mower), though. I like it. I look forward to the challenge. I read something new. And, I try to learn from my mistakes (which there have been a lot of). I don’t plant pretty flowers until May. It can still get pretty cold at night in April, and some of those pretty flowers are expensive. I don’t try to plant from just seeds anymore. I buy the plants already started and well on their way to surviving. I’ve involved my kids. Once the kiddos have ownership of something, they tend to want to care for it and nurture it and be better at it than their sisters and brothers are at it. I’ve learned to not spray Roundup on my entire lawn to kill the weeds. Just say no. It’s poison, first of all; secondly, you will end up with nothing for awhile, and then you will just have more weeds. If it hasn’t rained in two days, especially in the heat of July and August, you must water those plants! Rotate your crops, even if your crops consist of only one sunflower plant. Containers are wonderfully helpful, too. Virginia clay, or slate, or mud-slate is not the friendliest growing environment. People that have containers tend to have vegetables to share, and flowers worthy of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Finally, while the librarians might be chuckling at me, they also are the most helpful people on the planet, and want to help. If you want to garden and need a how-to with very specific style and language, they will match you to the right how-to book in no time at all. Plus, they love to do book matching! I have heard on more than one occasion that matching a reader to the right book is a passion of theirs. The books are free to checkout and renew, as well, of course. I believe that the 4-H also sponsors growing and plant workshops (for free!) at several library branches throughout Stafford and Fredericksburg. Libraries are the best deal ever.
Just like cooking or gardening, or whatever it is that might stump you in life, I offer this advice: pause, take a breath, step back, and try to learn about how to overcome the task at hand. I’ve been in my house since the late nineties and I still am learning the ropes of gardening and yard care. I have some beautiful azaleas and creeping phlox. I haven’t managed to kill any of my trees. I have two lavender bushes, and one rosemary that keeps coming back. Still, the yard is not what I envision, and I’ve only had one successful year of tomatoes and zucchinis, but I haven’t given up! This year, I think we are going to try some container gardening and hope for the best. I may not have inherited a farming or South gene (although, I think my parents would insist that I, at least, have the South gene), I have inherited the wanting to try to have a beautiful outdoor space. And, Spring is here. It’s time to get busy.
Keep calm, grow a garden, and parent on!