A Garden Is Always Changing

by Gibblet10/4/16

“You make me realize, Gibbett, that it isn’t truly a garden unless it’s a garden-in-progress. A garden is always changing.” — Brad Nelson

There was a song we sang in high school choir, “The River”. It had a haunting legato that brought to mind Washington’s Mighty Columbia River. The lyrics went something like, “Rushing onward, yet ever the same. Reaching outward, yet still to remain constant.”

Can a garden be compared to a river? Perhaps. Certainly it seems the constant influx of weeds can flood a garden if one does nothing to stem the flow. And the Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes I plant definitely do reach outward (15 feet in each direction along a fence last year) with a constant flow of fabulous bite size fruits. I have to call them fruit, not only because technically they are fruit, but because they are so sweet they could be called nature’s candy.

Like a river, a garden has its seasons: its high times, and its low times; its turbulent times, and its calm times. I was eager to get the veggie gardens started this spring, especially since we had an unusually warm and sunny April. However, April was followed by a typically cool May, so I ended up getting to start the seeds twice. So much for misguided enthusiasm. Next year I will stick to a friend’s sound advice to not plant seeds until the rhododendrons start to drop their blossoms (thereby indicating that the ground is sufficiently warm for successful germination of healthy plants). Or, in river terms, don’t head out onto the ice during the spring thaw!

A garden is like a river, also, in that sometimes it changes course. For example, I have decided to convert part of my veggie garden into a nursery of sorts, in order to feed a growing passion for propagating plants. The wellspring of this passion is a Japanese Maple tree growing in front of our local post office.

Ten or twelve years ago I collected from under the tree a dozen little sprouts in a discarded styrofoam coffee cup. I took them home, potted them, and pretty much neglected them all these years except for an occasional watering. Now, having grown from 2 inches to about 5 feet, I feared they wouldn’t survive much longer in the meager dirt allotted to each small pot. So I’ve been distributing these feral upshots amongst relatives (they are after all my babies, and should stay in the family).

Much like a river evokes a sense of peace, even as it changes the landscape around it; a garden is a place of peace and change, not just for the plants, but for the gardener as well. I have realized that the process of nurturing a little start, watching it grow into a viable plant, and then establishing its place in the landscape satisfies some instinct – perhaps in a maternal way, or maybe a similar innate manifestation. After all, the original plan God had for Adam was to maintain The Garden (Genesis 2:15). Though the maples survived their upbringing, I hope to raise new little plants in a more intentional way: giving them good soil, plenty of water, space to grow, and an occasional pruning.

I don’t know what I will do with all the plants when they mature, but I don’t need to worry about that right away. Right now the challenge is to change the course of the garden from the hectic pace of sprouting, struggle, and harvest, to a place with a slower pace where things of a more permanent nature and enduring value are grown. Therein lies the bedrock of my soul.


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22 Responses to A Garden Is Always Changing

  1. Lucia says:

    I don’t know what I would do with myself if it weren’t for the vegetable garden. At the end of every year I plan for the next one, using the lessons learned from that year, feeling very wise. But come the next spring, everything changes. Wet, cool weather may nix any spring planting, or hot, dry winds may bolt all the spring plants, or a combination of both kinds of weather may pull me on a yo-yo of hope and despair. It all depends on how and what God wants to provide. I never forget the lesson of Cain, who’s pride about his hard work ruined his sacrifice to Him who gave him success. I love growing food and eating it, cooking it, and putting it away in jars or the freezer or just dehydrating it. It’s much work, but like you said, work is a gift from God.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      God will certainly be happy with me because I’ve sacrificed hundreds of cherry tomatoes to the cold weather and rain. Given the red paste of squished tomatoes covering the ground, this might work as a blood offering.

      However, a sort of mark of Cain appears on me (a red spot) when I kneel to tend the flagging garden and accidentally squish a tomato. These fruits tend to drop on their own in this transition to winter.

      One minute your plants are so tiny and vulnerable. You’re doing all you can to get them on their way. The next minute you’re pulling them up by the roots to make room for the spring crops. I’m trying to stay a little ahead this year and keep the grounds looking at least respectable as the growing season turns to the decaying season.

      I often vow to scale things back a little and plant flowers instead of so many tomato plants. And I might do that. It’s a lot of work. But what else is there to do? Watch the NFL? No thanks.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Tomatoes and their products are often used as a visual substitute for blood (very explicitly, in order to fake being wounded, early in Start the Revolution Without Me), but I’m afraid they can’t serve as blood offerings. On the other hand, food offerings are acceptable (e.g., in The Wicker Man).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I saw an interview either of Martin Scorsese or by Martin Scorsese. It was talking about how tomato sauces were intentionally included in Goodfellas to evoke the bloody crimes portrayed in the movie.

          Tomatoes, of course, are best used purely for eating.

  2. Lucia says:

    I clean up my garden in the fall by pulling all the plants and bringing the green tomatoes into the house to ripen. Most will ripen and I’ll make tomato sauce out of them or we’ll eat them fresh until the first part of November. I cover all the garden soil for the winter with black plastic to keep the amendments from leaching out during the rains.

    I experimented with a few zinnias along the front porch this summer but found that they succumbed to mold from watering them. The deer seemed to avoid them so I’m going to give them another go next year. Maybe they are drought tolerant and I just didn’t know it.

    Brad, have you tried growing Black Krim tomatoes? They are a purple variety that I found at the nursery. I think they taste better than Cherokee Purple and they don’t take as long to ripen. They are low in acid so I recommend them for anyone who has trouble eating tomatoes. Not to say that you do, but I thought I’d throw that in.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Lucia, I took advantage of some dry weather (and relatively warm weather) and cleaned up the garden — at least a good part of it. I tore out all the large-variety tomato plants. I’m not sure what to do with the cherries. Many of the tomatoes have split in the rain but some do still seem to be ripening up.

      And you gave me the idea to bring in the tomatoes that were still green, at least on the bigger varieties. I had quite a few of the Red Octobers and Lemon Boys still on the vine. Most are runts and I had written them off. But I’ll bring them inside and perhaps they’ll ripen enough for making soup.

      I tried two varieties of the dark tomatoes a couple years ago. One was a “black” variety and one was listed as some kind of “purple.” Neither did well and I haven’t planted them since. Oh well.

      You are a real Martha Stewart in regards to gardening. Only Martha Stewart would take the time to install black plastic over the soil to retain the nutrients. Never heard of that but I guess it makes sense.

      My zinnias did well. I always get the “giants.” They hate the cold. I tried to start them inside last year and transplanted them a little early. They all died. I don’t know about their watering needs. Once the weather is warm, they seem to grow pretty well. I do give them some of the Alaska fertilizer now and again. And I generally had kept them well-watered, although the weather was generally so very warm that there was little danger of over-watering anything this year.

  3. Lucia says:

    I put in giants too, but maybe yours was in full sun. My front planter is shaded in the mornings, although down at the local post office, their planter has the same exposure as mine and their giant zinnias and sunflowers grew just fine. Oh well, I’ll give them one more try next year, maybe out in the full sun.

    Cherry tomatoes are very messy in the fall. I would suggest adding roughage to the soil and spading it under so that it doesn’t look so messy. What do you do with the volunteers?

    • Gibblet says:

      Last year I planted three varieties of tomatoes: Early Girl which is a regular salad-sized fruit, an heirloom which was a little larger, and Sweet 100 round cherry tomatoes. This year a bazillion volunteers came up where last year’s surplus fell in the fall, each around its parent root. Being occupied elsewhere, I let them grow up into a happy and carefree tomatoe jungle. They were all healthy and prolific plants, but the funny thing is they produced small pear shaped fruits about 1.5 inches long, and a few plants had the small round cherry tomatoes.

      We picked gallons of these delicious little tomatoes, with hopes for a few gallons more. Unfortunately, the bird netting on one side of the garden became caught in the lawnmower. I did a halfway job of putting it back up after untwisting the remnant, and called it good. I figured the deer were trained to ignore the garden by now. No such luck. The next day all the lovely yellow flowers were gone, along with much of the plants and their fruit.

      I have a love/hate relationship with these deer. They have put a lot of effort into growing their herd, and their success is evident. We can’t discharge firearms here in the city limits, but I’m considering getting a paintball gun so I can track their migration patterns through my yard. It could be so fun; me in my camo on the porch, hiding behind the hops growing up the twine to the eaves, finger twitching near the trigger waiting for the doe and fawns who leveled the tomatoe jungle and the two point that mauled my little fig trees. I hear the snap of twigs in the nearby woods….

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        One of the things I learned regarding the squirrels and my tulips is not to fight them. If they’re going to eat the bulbs anyway, it spoils the point of the garden if I have to stand vigil with a BB gun (which I did for a time last year). So I plant what nobody wants.

        Still, it is disappointing to have wild creatures spoil the garden. Your best option is probably to just build a high fence around your garden. I guess I’d be in the same situation if the deer (and there was one passing through here last year) started to frequent my tomato plants. The garden situated as it is, building a high fence is not an option. Nor is shooting the deer.

        There are all kinds of deer-resisting things you can plant. But maybe getting a guard dog would work.

        • Gibblet says:

          Good suggestions, Brad.
          A fence is in the planning stage. And although I could capitalize on my husband’s lingering guilt regarding the mowing incident, I found more humor than angst in the mishap. The scenario could have played out like that Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial: “your bird netting got in the way of my lawnmower”, “no, your lawnmower got in the way of my bird netting!” Instead, we just worked together to untangle the mess, laughed, and moved on. It’s quite remarkable that we’ve become so mature.

          We are “this close” to getting a dog….just one tempting trip to the humane society away. We have been owned by a dog before, and the experience makes us apprehensive. I’m not sure how effective a Yorkshire Terrier would be as a deer deterrent anyway (due to my husband’s allergies, we should get a dog with hair rather than fur).

          If I could just train the squirrels to chase the deer. Hmmmm….

      • Lucia says:

        Sounds like so much fun, but you’d better find out if it’s illegal inside the city limits to harass deer, before your neighbors complain.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          That’s the genius of Gibblett’s plan. The squirrels would take all the heat. And if caught, they could just say they were nuts.

        • Gibblet says:

          “Sounds like so much fun, but you’d better find out if it’s illegal inside the city limits to harass deer, before your neighbors complain.”

          Considering the idiosyncrasies of my neighbors (including many family members who have migrated to our hilltop) there are so many ways I could respond. I must however, defer to my better judgement and share only a smirk and a chuckle with you.

          The great thing about our deer-rich neighborhood, it is more likely that others would want to grab a paint ball gun and make up some sort of competition rather than complain.

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