It’s spring – which for me, means that it’s planting time. Unfortunately I’m not in a place where it makes sense right now – I anticipate leaving Pittsburgh when I get my next job. So at the moment, the best I can do is to reflect on the gardens of yesteryear, and yearn for the gardens yet to come.
Back in 2007, I started out by planting sunflowers and morning glories around the porch of the house I was renting. I created their bed by hand, sifting through the soil to filter out the rusty nails, bottle caps, stones, plastic, and shards of broken glass I found there (yielding many cut fingers). But the flowers brought me joy every time I came home.
2012 was the first year I could garden where I lived in Seattle, and I started out small , with just a few pots on my back deck, overlooking the Cascades.
I grew sunflowers again, as well as green beans and cherry tomatoes, both of which bring me their own form of joy.
The next year I expanded, by building a protected raised bed on the deck outside. I couldn’t protect everything I grew from the squirrels, but I wanted to protect everything I could.
Inside, I grew what I love the most – tomatoes, as well as peas and green beans. I think I tried cucumbers as well, but they put in a desultory performance. In the last photo, you can see the beans stretching high along the fishing lines I strung up to the roof.
I also carved out a little plot on the earth below – a neglected, weedy corner underneath the staircase that led from my apartment. There I planted pumpkins – not befcause I expected to harvest any, but just because the way they grow makes me happy.
In my pots, I grew what squirrels should find less interesting – sunflowers and morning glories and a beautiful pot of jasmine. Of course the squirrels eventually did find the sunflowers, but not after I’d enjoyed them for a while.
In 2014 I expanded again, building a new raised bed in a neglected patch of our backyard.
Again, I cleared the sod by hand, sifting away the glass, stones, and other detritus I found there. The lumber came from a store a mile and a half away; they thought I was bizarre for not buying pretreated wood. “You know that will rot away in 2-3 years,” they told me. And I said that was fine – it was a rental property anyway, and since I was buying the lumber out of my own pocket, I didn’t want to pay extra for long-lasting usage I wouldn’t be around to enjoy.
They also thought I was weird for getting the wood without a car. I had several 12-foot-long boards, which I planned to carry home by hand/shoulder – unpleasant, but much nicer than either owning or paying to borrow a car. I made it a few blocks before I realized that the weight of all those boards simultaneously was just too great and unwieldy to carry all at once. So I split up the burden, carrying half 2-3 blocks, and then going back for the other half, in a leapfrog manner that took longer, but still got everything where it needed to be.
I did the same with the lumber for the raised bed on my deck the year before, but that was easier, since it took less lumber.
Getting all the soil was a trickier task – try carrying all this in one go. But I managed thanks to a wheeled platform which, again, was far far preferable to a car. This time the source was about two miles away, but the wheels made everything easier. The only trouble I had came from the rain, which made the bags slick and inclined to slip off, so I had to keep re-stacking them again.
Much of that soil made its way into the new raised bed I built, but I used some to fill additional pots and windowboxes, and to enrich an additional stretch of land alongside the house.
That plot didn’t end up producing much, and I never really thought it would. It was on the north side of the house and didn’t get much sun, and even the rain didn’t always reach it. So that’s where I planted the seeds that would have gone to waste anyway – at least they had some opportunity to live out their lives.
In the corner plot went peas, which adored the spot and grew lustily.
I gave the old raised bed on the deck entirely over to beans…
…and the new raised bed entirely to tomatoes. I put in 15 plants – too many for the space, but what can I say? I love tomatoes, and home-grown are (by far) the best.
In my pots and window-boxes, I planted garlic, cucumbers, peppers, arugula, lettuce, tomato, basil, mint, sunflowers, morning glory, carrots, gourds, cauliflower, and pumpkin. Many didn’t do that well; the tomatoes, leafy greens, carrots, flowers, and herbs did fine, but the rest performed poorly. Better soil composition, mulching, and lighting would have helped.
Still, I got to enjoy all sorts of delicious produce that year, particularly tomatoes. Have I mentioned that I love tomatoes?
In 2015, I planted with the knowledge that I’d be moving in late August, and therefore be unable to enjoy the full vegetables of my labors. So I avoided spending money on many tomato transplants, given their relative expense and their likely time of maturation. Instead, I mostly relied on seeds I already had at hand (and in some cases, bought). Hence, my ground-level bed was entirely given over to green beans – and if they ended up producing more beans than I could consume myself, well, so be it:
I could have invested in bean poles or something similar, but why bother? Hence this unruly mass. Which actually happened to harbor several tomato plants anyway, just because I’d grown tomatoes there the year before, and some of the seeds from the prior year germinated, as seeds are wont to do.
In the corner plot and the raised bed on the deck, I planted still more beans, along with a few peas.
But I couldn’t resist planting a few tomato plants after all, as well as some corn, strictly for ornamental purposes.
In the end, aside from a few carrots, I mostly harvested beans – surprise, surprise! On just about any day I could go out and pick my fill of fresh beans to eat. And they were delicious.
Eating the food you grew yourself is healthy, yes, and often delicious. But more than that, it’s delightful. There’s a magic to tending the plants and watching them grow that brings me joy regardless of whatever produce they may provide.
I yearn for the gardens yet to come.