Cultivating The Artful Dodger

The March garden dozes.  The April garden yawns.  The May garden kicks up its heels, shakes its tail like a new lamb.

The June garden is an ostrich in full flight.

Every year, without fail, no matter how carefully I plan, no matter the fervor with which I give myself that stiff January talking-to about running a more tightly disciplined ship, the June garden leaves my sorry self supine in the soil, ears ringing like I’ve been clocked by a cast iron skillet.  By the second week in June, I am woozily beginning to wonder, “wha’happened?”

Because the June garden isn’t intimidated by those three-day downpours that keep me penned up in the house grinding my teeth, the ones that send my best pest-control efforts swirling down the city storm sewer.   The June garden remains unperturbed by extreme temperature advisories, by red air-quality alerts, by the puff-puff puff-puff of an inhaler gone empty ten puffs ago.  It doesn’t care one whit about the trials and tribulations of weak kneed, over-heated, mosquito-exsanguinated human interlopers.

It simply keeps growing.

The June garden is where my catalog-addled January good intentions run afoul of my optimistic April inability to visualize or even measure the difference between 12” and 18”.

The June Garden is where the memory of fussing with February seedlings sabotages my May instinct to throw away extra plants for which there is no more space (“Lookee, hunny!  I kin tuck this cute leedle lemon grass sprout right next to the horseradish plant.  There’s room enough!”).

Between thundershowers and nursing my arthritic joints, I shuttle  kids to and from canoe camp, art camp, swimming lessons, dental appointments, the dog to the vet, the car to the shop, and tap my foot impatiently while the very nice credit card customer service representative in Mumbai puts me on hold.  By the time I catch my breath, screw up my courage and fling open the back door to Do Battle with a garden I’ve not seen in four days, I’ve already lost The Battle:

The June garden curls its lip and smiles that coyote smile.  Wild grape vines have grown another 5 feet and are tearing down the rear chain link fence.  The poke weed (taproot as thick as my wrist) has gone to fruit already; the evidence of its popularity with the local bird population is spattered spectacularly all over the vegetable bed, not to mention my automobile.  The spinach has gone to seed.  Again.  I have eight rows of knee-high rainbow chard that will never be consumed, not if my entire family ate it every day from now until the Second Coming.

It’s June, and the garden simply keeps growing.


17 thoughts on “Cultivating The Artful Dodger

  1. Laurrie says:

    A riot of wild exuberance run right up against the gardener’s careful plans (but then your pictures make it all look so tidy!) I love your writing. You make the age-old complaints about weeds and weather and not enough time entertaining. And relatable. My June garden is curling its coyote lip and smiling vilely at me even now.

  2. Margaret Katranides says:

    If you had time to come to meeting, you could bring along some chard.. ;-). All the gardening I’ve managed so far is to plant things that never sprouted when I was in the hospital and unable to water, and the cosmos that was doing nicely until something came up and chomped it while I was at Yearly Meeting. No, wait, I put in some parsley and basil, but haven’t had a chance to check and see if it’s still there. The lawn grows higher, and I haven’t had time or energy to shorten it, let alone get rid of it and grow something more ecologically sound. (Now you know what true kvetching sounds like. I second Laurrie’s opinion of your description.)

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      It sounds like your yard has the coyote snarl down pat too, Margaret. Food pantries, luckily, are happy to take any and all fresh veg. That always is a little bit of a salve for my guilty conscience!

  3. Kami Landy says:

    Can this turn into a book? Is there any market *left* for beautifully crafted words? You are SUCH a lovely poet- in your prose.
    And– I’m going to have to plant another round of calendula: my stable hand does NOT understand “leave it go to seed, please”. But the echinacea is happy to get a chance to grow toward the sun for now, since they share a space.
    Man, that’s a lot of water coming out of the sky. Not a drought- yay! Pond is not empty. Not even close. A bit of tiny hail today, but tonight it’s lovely and peaceful and damp.

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      What a wonderful compliment, Kami. You encourage me to keep trying to write well, something that is far more intimidating than gardening is, at least for me. You know, even some gardeners seem to disbelieve in “let it go to seed.” Many people ask me, “how do you get your foxglove to grow 5 feet?” Ummm… it grew from seed in its chosen location? So try the calendula again. If you can get it established and reseeding itself, it’s a lovely flower (dweeby and floppy, otherwise, in my humble opinion). Dodge the raindrops and the hail stones, meanwhile. Cheers!

  4. I only wish my rainbow chard would grow but the ants that invaded the veg bed have taken the seed again. Another fabulous post that tells me we both have lots of weeds, plants and little time to get some control. I felt as if I was right there swatting the mosquitoes whacking back those advancing weeds. It is my personal philosophy that there is always room for one more plant.

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      I sometimes worry that my extremely high “weed tolerance” disqualifies me from actually being a gardener. On the other hand, I share your philosophy that there is always room for one more plant… so I must be a gardener too… some kind of a one. Thanks for visiting! Dodge them skeeters!

  5. KL says:

    Not only your aunt Elaine, but you also seem to have lots of knowledge for such great harvest :-). What are they?

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      I honestly believe (this is straight from the hip) that the only “secret” to getting good gardening results is to 1) try your hand at everything and 2) laugh and shrug when plants drop dead. Cuz plants are mortal, ya know? Being intimidated by the mortality of a plant kind of paints the gardener into a corner. Sho’ Nuff!

  6. I love your writing! It’ so vivid and exact. 🙂 By June, I’m not a gardener as much as a botanical mediator whose been outwitted by her clients and left to eat crow in the corner.

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      Bwahaahhahaa!!! You’ve nailed it! Exactly! I thought I was the only gardener tossing in the towel by the end of June, thinking, “forget it, it’s outta my hands til August!”

  7. Lovely post, such vivid prose ! And sooo true ! The distances between plants , which looked so vast when the seedlings went into all that bare earth, have now been completely gobbled up, and everything is squeezed into its allotted space !

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      …if you had any idea how affirming it is for me to know that other people have the same experience that I do when figuring out planting distances. I try to tell myself, “c’mon, this isn’t rocket science!” Nevertheless…

  8. Yeah, it’s one of the reasons I can sort of justify some time away in June because most of the mistakes have been made, I mean, most of the decisions. In Jul/Aug/Sep, I’ll reap what I sowed but until then, I can take a slight break. Except for the weeds, mind. They keep on keeping on…sigh.

    • Sho'Nuff says:

      I like this somewhat zen approach… I usually run around cursing myself for my stupidity, arrogance, for having eyes that are bigger than my stomach and for making promises to myself that I can’t keep. I think I’ll try to cultivate your more philosophical approach! I really need a mint julep!

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