Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Tag: gardening

Growing Things and the Smell of Spring

“That’s fresh air,” she said. “Lie on your back and draw in long breaths of it. That’s what Dickon does when he’s lying on the moor. He says he feels it in his veins and it makes him strong and he feels as if he could live forever and ever. Breathe it and breathe it.”

She was only repeating what Dickon had told her, but she caught Colin’s fancy.

“’Forever and ever’! Does it make him feel like that?” he said, and he did as she told him, drawing in long deep breaths over and over again until he felt that something quite new and delightful was happening to him.

FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT, The Secret Garden

I took a walk around the park over lunch today, and realized things were perfect. Not just the sky — blue, with wispy clouds — and not just the trees — branches waving in the breeze, sunlight glinting off the leaves — but the smell.

Even through my mask, I could smell the smell of good green stuff, of things growing and living and making the world happen. Cedar mulch. Grass cuttings decaying in the sun. Wind. The resinous, incense-like scent of golden currant bushes. I eventually took the mask off, secure in the solitude around me, and continued walking towards the community garden, breathing in and breathing in.

It’s hard for me to get over the satisfaction of seeing this in the distance and realizing I’m part of it. And then, coming closer to my plot and seeing all the plants I can identify, and all the ones I can’t.

The tomato and pepper seedlings have shot up like rockets since I first planted them about a month ago. Some of the tomatoes have gotten so tall that I’m going to stake them tomorrow. Some of the peppers are starting to bloom. Even the lone pumpkin seedling that was struggling after transplantation is making a go of it! And there are masses and masses of dill. I harvested handfuls last week and have barely made a dent. I will need to find a way to use it all up, but I can highly recommend this recipe for maple, mustard and dill chicken. (Bonus: You can tweak the marinade and turn it into a great dressing for pasta salad.)

The first few weeks of June are also when Russian olive trees are at their most fragrant. Their smell is almost impossible for me to describe, floral and sweet and powdery and fresh like rain. If someone could bottle that smell, I would buy it. I’d daub it on my wrists and neck in the wintertime, to remind myself that the seasons will change eventually.

They will change. But right now, I’m happy with the light and the smell of late spring, and the promise of pumpkins and carrots and tomatoes.

A long, thin community garden plot with plenty of freshly-planted seedlings.

2021 Gardening, part 1

One of the things that gave me a tremendous amount of joy last year was taking part in my local community garden. The whole thing was quite happenstance — I joined the waiting list in early 2020, but I didn’t hear anything about it until I received a phone call out of the blue at the end of May last year. There was a garden plot available, they said, and did I want it? Oh, and I had only 2 hours to make a decision, after which they would call the next person on the list.

The next 2 hours, as my former coworkers can attest, were frantic. I knew nothing about gardening. I had no idea how big the garden plot was. I had barely any tools. Was it a good idea for me to juggle this among all my other responsibilities? Could I share the plot with someone else? My mother said no. My aunt, who lives a short drive away, also declined. Maybe I could rope in the wife of my high school friend who lives only a 5-minute walk away? (Reader, I actually did! She’s super awesome. We worked on it the whole summer together and soon we’re going to look at seed catalogues for the upcoming season.)

Despite the logistical hurdles, I said yes! And so, a few days later, with all the paperwork signed and a partner in gardening crime, I set to work!

First, I persuaded my mother and aunt to help me clean up the plot. There was a large patch of lettuce amid all the weeds, plus some dill and onions sprinkled throughout.

Then, for the next few weeks, it was a steady routine of watering everything by hand every other day. My garden partner went to a nursery and bought scads of seedlings to plant. I don’t think I can remember them all, but there were strawberries, green onions, carrots, kale, marigolds, cucumbers, sunflowers, basil, lemon balm, and sage, among other things.

In the first weeks after taking over the plot, the lettuce grew so profusely that we couldn’t eat it all before it bolted.

Taking the produce home and cooking with it was intensely satisfying. It felt like I was the Barefoot Contessa — though, as Mr. BooksandTea likes to note, I was actually wearing socks most of the time.

More than that, though, it was the sense that I was actually contributing to something. I met my fellow gardeners and learned their names. We traded produce from our different with each other. People gave me free zucchinis out of the goodness of their hearts. I harvested extra produce and set it aside for delivery to the local food bank.

This was a pleasant but stark contrast from 2020. Months after the pandemic set in, novelty of working from home wore off. It was easy to sit inside 24/7 and spend hours playing Animal Crossing and Hades or catching up on DS9.

But last year, because of the garden, I had a reason to go out. In the mornings, I’d put on some janky shorts or yoga pants, walk to the garden plot with tools in hand, do some watering and weeding, then walk back home, shower, and start work. It felt nice carrying home bags of cucumbers, dill, tomatoes, and dirty spades.

Things got even better over the next few months as the plants grew taller and taller. But I’ll share those pictures in a future post.

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