a garden interlude: getting back to writing, with help from gayla trail

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regular readers may know that my other intense obsession is my garden, which i occasionally like to brag on and post photos of.  admittedly, pretty much the only thing brag-worthy after my first season in it was the fact that it existed at all.  still, spring is here again, and i am bursting with energy on all fronts, and today i found something interesting called the “grow write guild.”  this spoke to me on several levels, but mostly, it grabbed me as a writer.  i think most of us who blog-outside of those who’ve deliberately worked to develop a following and craft a real persona-most of us are just looking for a way to share what we do.  and a side benefit of that can be finding a way to hone our voices and maybe indulge in a little bit of storytelling.  this year i’ve been wanting to return a little bit to my roots (ha!  see what i did there?) and work more on my writing, and until someone invents a “sew write guild”, i’m going to carry on my affair with my garden.

those of you already bored and snoring over your keyboards can skip the next bit.  i’ll have loads to share over the next week as i head back to baltimore for a fresh round of camp chanel.

this post was written in response to a prompt from Gayla Trail and her gardening site, “You Grow Girl.”

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I’m pretty sure I came to it backwards, when it comes to gardening.  I was always about the fantasy and then tended to forget about the reality.  In my hazy memory I seem to recall the idea of a vegetable garden in the backyard of my childhood home, which I immediately planted in my head to be full of tomatoes, and cucumbers, and melons and corn.

I honestly cannot remember if this garden ever existed.  Certainly, if it did, it did not exist the way I imagined it would.  My mother, always a seasoned gardener but one who focused her energies on nonedibles, probably talked me out of my fantasies and into something she, as the person who would be working the dirt, deemed practical.  And I have no memory of what that may have been.

I could probably lay the blame for all of this at The Secret Garden, which I was forced to read during some childhood illness when my mom stole and hid all of my Sweet Valley Twins favorites.  To some degree, the illicitness of running around a hidden patch of land and planting whatever I could dream of has never left me.  (sadly, the cute neighbor boy with the delicious Yorkshire accent has never appeared)

I have had many imaginary gardens in my life.  When I lived in Washington, D.C., I had an attic apartment with a roof that I imagined I could plant full of container vegetables.  thanks to an amazon prime membership, I quickly amassed a library of used books on the subject. What didn’t I buy?  A pot – during the languid summer months that, during the early 19th century, make Washington an area that merited hazard pay for its soldiers and gave birth to the traditional August recess for the Members of Congress for whom I was working, it was just too hot even to contemplate the roof.  My kitchen, immediately under the roof and lighted by skylights, was so baked from the constant heat that most days before Labor Day I could not enter it until 9 or 10pm because the tile was still too hot.

My next attempt came in a rental apartment near the Hudson River in New Jersey.  I was thrilled to discover that I had a patio and somehow missed the significance of the fact that, since it was north-facing and near the back of my building, my patio never actually got any sunlight.  I gamely set up an antique plant light system, dug up from the basement of my parents’ home, and tried to grow strawberries and even a wild Asian wineberry bramble that I pulled out of my parents’ yard.  I managed to ignore its immediate wilt and pretend that I would eventually have a place to put it, perhaps with my failing strawberry pot on the dark patio.

I think it was three years ago when I successfully commandeered “a bit of earth” and finally got actual plants into an actual garden for the first time.   The chosen spot was duly gated off from the herd of deer that lived in the backyard and I lovingly layered compost over the dirt while lobbying my parents to switch over to an organic lawncare service.  I’m not sure what changed my mom’s mind, but I know that my dad had become enamored of having his own tomatoes.  I became instantly obsessed with companion planting and an unwitting adopter of what I now know to be the French “intensive gardening” method when I created a tomato jungle teeming with eggplants and basil, each week finding more tempting varieties at my local farmers market.  It was aesthetically not pleasing, but we harvested almost 100 tomatoes that summer while the slugs devoured the eggplants.  “I meant for that to happen,” I lied to my disappointed father, explaining that eggplants can be trap plants for undesirable insects as if I had known that from the start.

What’s funny here is that I don’t even like vegetables.  The only tomatoes I ate out of that garden were the ones I pureed or sautéed into tomato sauce.  My obsession was strawberries, and everything else was an excuse to have dirt available for as many strawberry plants as I could cram in.  (this is still true, by the way.)  my mom and I would scour every garden nursery in the area looking for strawberry plants, and each year since I’ve begun hunting them down, they have been easier to find.  This only encourages me to make it harder, and I’ve switched from the generic flats of tristars and earligos over to alpine strawberries in pinks and whites and yellows.  This year, I’m starting them from seed in my living room while I construct a new tomato jungle in the 15×15 plot tucked away in my own backyard of my own home…my own secret garden.

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6 Responses to a garden interlude: getting back to writing, with help from gayla trail

  1. This is great! I can totally see that imaginary garden. (Some of my students are reading The Secret Garden right now, and your post makes me want to start rereading it right away…)

    • puu says:

      it definitely turned into one of those books that i always need to have a copy of :-) in fact, i have it packed for a trip next week for my first re-read in several years!

  2. Valerie says:

    I like your post, but like your blog even more. I envy your talent, as my sewing skills are non-existent.

  3. Great post — I love that last photo. Strawberries are an excellent reason to garden!d

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