books, fruit, gardening, summer, vegetables

Kitchen garden (II)

An update on the garden:

  • The tomatoes are flourishing, after being re-potted to deeper pots and staked with bamboo and sisal. (I think it looks rather pretty, don’t you?) However, I originally planted three per pot, and since none of them died off, that meant they would eventually compete for light and water. So the other day I had to decide which plant was the weakest link and pull it from the pot. It gave my heart a pang to do it. My dad calls it “playing God.” Josh calls it “the Sophie’s Choice of gardening.” While they’re both accurate, I think the latter description captures the pain of it.
  • I sprouted some sugar peas and now they’re going great guns, which makes Josh happy because he loves peas and I tolerate them. “You’re growing peas for boys!” he says. Personally, my favorite part so far is the way they grasp onto the sisal with thin tendrils. They’re little but strong, those pea plants.
  • My lettuce is by far the weakest link of everything I’ve planted. First animals dug them up, and now they’re thinning out by themselves. I might have to call it and purchase some starts at the farmer’s market on Saturday…but I hate admitting defeat.
  • The herbs are doing well. Lemon balm is under the grow light, and basil is flourishing on the windowsill. At least there will be flavor this summer!
  • Finally, there are strawberries-in-a-bag that I replanted in a regular pot. They sent up one squat sprout, and since then, nothing. Maybe if I move it to a sunnier spot…that sure did the tomatoes wonders.

It’s funny, I was never much for gardening before this spring. I dreamed of having a garden one day, but it wasn’t until I actually had plants to care for that I found out what all the fuss was about. You think about your plants like they’re your children (or your pet dwarf hamsters). You dote on them. You worry about them when you’re at work and the sky threatens rain and thunder. Suddenly, you’re happy to spend a half hour or more just looking at them, marveling at the way the pea shoots curl around their stakes. How do they know how to do that? It’s fascinating.

A few days ago I finished a wonderful YA novel, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. It’s set in Wales circa 1294, and tells the story of Cecily, an English girl who’s moved to occupied Wales against her will, and Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh girl who’s just trying to stay alive now that the English have taken away everything she knew. There’s so much to love about this novel, from the strong, distinct voices of the two girls, to the dual narrative that gives you just enough information, to the masterful way the author describes her setting and makes you see, hear, and smell medieval Wales. But one passage in particular gave me pause for thought.

One of the few pleasures Cecily finds in her new home is planting her own kitchen garden, full of tansy and rue and other medieval-sounding plants. Here, when she’s sowing her garden afresh after a hard winter, she captures the very feeling I’ve been experiencing with my own garden:

“But there’s something about coaxing life from ground that shrugs at you, that makes you tend it with fish guts and holy water, coddling it as if it’s an old sick hound. It matters more. You harvest every blade and seed and grain. You cherish what the earth bestows.”

While I coddle my plants with organic plant food and tap water, the feeling’s the same: I cherish those plants as if they were beloved pets. It’s magical.

If you’ve planted a garden this spring, how are your plants coming along?


2 thoughts on “Kitchen garden (II)”

  1. I live in a tiny studio so the best I can manage is a few pots of herbs on the windowsill. But the basil's doing well, so is the coriander, thyme, and rocket (:

    love the concept of your blog btw, touching base with our traditions and the recipes handed down for generations. I think mum's cooking is always the best, and it's these traditional recipes that always sing to my heart x


  2. Sometimes the herbs are all you need!

    And thanks for your kind words–I've been enjoying getting in touch with older recipes. I took a look at your blog and love your manifestos on eating well. I'll definitely be back for more!


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