Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tomato plot

This will be the year of the tomato. My name has finally reached the top of the waiting list for a community garden plot! This plot will give me a place to plant my tomatoes far from my nemesis, the stink bug.

The area surrounding the gardens is blessedly free of blackberries, a haven for the cursed insect when it is not dining on tomatoes and vectoring diseases. In fact, the adjacent property is an open field, soon to be developed as a greenspace and hopefully more garden plots.

The plot is small, 10 x 10, but I am on a waiting list for a larger plot. In the meantime I will be trying the square foot garden spacing of 1 tomato plant/4 square feet. I can plant my cherry tomatoes at home as they seem to hold up under insect assault better than the larger cultivars. This leaves twelve heirloom tomato plants for the new plot, leaving room for beans, peppers and eggplant, basil and flowers.

I love community gardens. They bring together gardeners from diverse backgrounds and offer rich opportunities for learning. Strolling through the plots I noticed a wide range of designs and styles; a free form plot with meandering paths dividing irregular beds, a plot with radiating paths between wedge shaped beds and a raised center, built up beds surrounded by stones or wood, pots, and all manner of trellises ranging from bamboo teepees to sturdy wooden frames. Add the occasional lawn chair or rocker and a true cross-section of gardening personalities emerges.

Taken as a whole, these remind me of a themed patchwork quilt where each member contributes a distinctively personal square. The common thread is a celebration of all things growing. I am so looking forward to adding my little tomato patch to the mix!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Oh, Daphne!

The fragrance of winter daphne, Daphne odora, transports me as close to the gates of heaven as I am ever likely to get. Winter weary, anxious for tender sprouts and warm breezes, I am always surprised to see buds on the daphne so early each year. Anything that smells that good must surely be a fragile hothouse beauty, unsuited for the night’s freezing temperatures.

But the delicate blossoms are tough. They hang in through frosts and one day a single blossom on the little nosegays (an apt descriptor of the flower clusters) begins to open. This signals spring as surely as the lengthening days and in spite of whatever little meteorological surprises Mother Nature may have up her voluminous blue sleeve.

Daphne may be tough but she is not easy. This particular daphne marks my third attempt to succeed with a container planting. The plant does not like exposure to drying winds. It does not like to be waterlogged. But neither does it like to dry out. This year’s success I chalk up to a merciful universe and no particular expertise on my part.

Many years ago I lived in a tiny apartment across from a private college in the Willamette Valley. Planted against one brick building was a veritable hedge of winter daphne. I often would lie on the grass next to that building, breathing in the heady scent of hundreds of blossoms. This experience defines an entire period of my life.

Prevailing wisdom maintains that, of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most powerful stimulus of memory. I believe this is true because each spring when I lean over my small daphne plant and inhale the heady aroma I am back on that lawn, floating on a cloud of fragrance, looking up at the sky.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Planting peas

Early pea planting in my garden is a dicey proposition. If peas don’t go in early enough they will not have time to mature before the beds are needed for summer crops. But the weather must cooperate; ideally a few dry days, followed by a day of rain and then some sunny days to keep the soil warm so the seed does not rot in the ground. Not much to ask from capricious February!

Unbelievably the weather has been mild, though without rain. Mega snap peas, such a hit last year, and Dakota, a shelling pea that matures in 57 days, are in the ground. The long promised rain has failed to materialize and I have had to water but the sun has provided enough warmth and I expect to see sprouts soon.

Planting shell peas is a luxury. A great deal of space is needed to provide enough peas for a few meals but the flavor is so special when picked fresh and cooked right away.

Besides, planting peas is the first outdoor gardening task of the season. The beds, dug and planted, look tidy and usually inspire me to prepare a bed for the lettuce seedlings, which will be big enough to go out in a couple of weeks.

The domino effect in gardening is never more evident than in this early spring. The pea planting brings on the lettuce bed preparation. But the rosemary must be pruned to increase light to the lettuce. Yikes, are those hollyhocks I see under the rosemary? They must be moved. But the preferred spot is choked with vinca, which must be removed to the last hair-size rootlet.

And so it went the entire morning. Pea domino hits lettuce domino hits rosemary…. But these first early spring tasks provide an opportunity to get reacquainted with the garden. And as it is with old friends, a few months absence dissolves immediately. In no time I found myself back in that serene mindful balance that garden puttering seems to foster.It feels good to be back!