Until very recently, if I had to describe my garden in one word it would be: embarrassing. For something I have spent so much time obsessing about, it was a huge mess. Now I of course take full responsibility for said mess, but there are certainly some contributing factors.
First and foremost, there is the ignorance factor. As in, I had no idea the pumpkin vines would grow into the tomatoes and the garage and across the back yard. Which is fine in and of itself but how does one mow while keeping said vines looking tidy? Also, while my dear gardening cousin, Jacki (aka Silverpixels), warned me about my tomato spacing and need to preemptively stake, I assumed said tightly spaced, unstaked plants weren’t going to live and therefore I needn’t worry about their future. Well, every last stinking one of them lived (plus a few more sprung up on a compost pile) and they made a hellacious mess (think 42 guys sharing three hotel rooms at the beach for a couple of months).
There is also the end of season factor. Waiting for corn to go to seed (aka popcorn) makes for some ugly, creepy corn stalks lingering about. Same goes for sunflowers. However, I do have a new appreciation for sunflowers, but more on that in a bit. Also, there are plants that are finished like eggplants and cucumbers sharing space with things like tomatoes and peppers that are still producing. I had a vision of tilling everything under in one fell swoop. No such luck unless I want to put up with the ugly carcasses until everything is finished.
Finally there is the crappy summer factor. By that I mean I have had some disappointing things happen to me that really dwarf the disappointment I felt about none of our watermelons surviving. When extricating one’s self from bed is a crowning achievement, culling extraneous tomato plants just doesn’t make the done list.
While these contributing factors may validate the mess, they certainly do nothing to clean it so I’ve spent the last couple of days going after it. First of all, I harvested the popcorn. The Guru, no doubt worried about my repeating the bean disaster, sent me instructions as to how to properly dry the corn. Now an interesting fact I learned about corn is that each silk is basically a genetic conduit for each kernel of corn. As in, in order for the kernel to exist, the silk must have received a dash of DNA. When my sister took me to see one of her husband’s relatives who has been gardening since before my mother was born, he mentioned going from stalk to stalk helping this process along by shaking some pollen onto the silks. This, I believed, was something nature could just take care of itself so I didn’t bother. It seems not paying proper heed to those who know more than me is a lesson oft repeated as several of my cobs were half naked. Life lesson learned: If a person with experience is willing to take the time to impart knowledge, take the time to use it.
I saved the spent corn stalks to tie around my front posts. Normally the extent of my outdoor fall decorations is a pumpkin on my deck. (And the extent of my indoor fall decorations is a scented candle.) Now that I’m a seasoned (x 1) gardener, I have a deeper appreciation for harvest season and would like to celebrate it more enthusiastically. With my dried corn stalks, drying corn and crazy pumpkins, my decorations will be authentic if nothing else.
After the corn, I took a good hard look at the tomato plants and decided it wasn’t too late to cull. Now Jacki warned me this would be difficult. I would say it was doubly so because all of the plants I pulled had green tomatoes on them. Hundreds of green tomatoes, all told, went into the compost pile. But lest you are appalled by my wastefulness, at least that many have rotted because my household can’t keep up with production. Forty-two tomato plants produce a lot of tomatoes, people, even if the yield is low due to tight spacing and poor staking. And not to worry, I’m sure the 15 or so remaining plants will do their very best to produce more tomatoes than we know what to do with.
Next up was the sunflowers. I was actually beginning to believe sunflowers were an obnoxious thing to grow. Here I had stalks growing as tall as our second story windows, their flowers would open, they’d be pretty for like a second and then they’d start to look disappointed; face down and despondent. Last thing I needed this summer was a bunch of gigantic depressed flowers. However, once I knocked them all down and cut their heads off, I started to really appreciate what they had accomplished. Those heavy heads were packed with a beautiful and intricate circle of seeds. Michael Pollan talks about the alchemy of gardening in his books on the subject and I think the head of a sunflower is a perfect example. I planted one seed and got hundreds in return. Magic. Well, it will be if they dry properly and don’t mold like some seeds I’ve known…
Finally, I pulled all of my no longer producers and tried to tidy up around the pumpkin vines by hand. Hopefully I didn’t ruin my pumpkins in the process.
My garden still doesn’t resemble the masterpiece I had created in my head, but it no longer looks like a hot mess. At the beginning of the season, I had this fantasy that I would be able to raise my arms in (incredibly) slow motion and like a magician, produce towering sunflowers, pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes neatly growing to the top of their supports and a sea of colorful vegetables bursting forth like a beautiful array of fireworks. This did not actually happen. My garden has not demonstrated a lot of aesthetic beauty. My marigolds and beloved snow peas held their own, but everything else I’ve appreciated for what it has produced rather than how it has looked. Squash, for example, was probably slapped with that unfortunate name for a reason.
Actually, some of my favorite things to eat and grow are root vegetables: garlic, carrots, potatoes and onions. To see them in situ is nothing fancy, their beauty is hidden, but their contribution to the kitchen is invaluable. That is all well and good, but we take pride in beauty in this culture, and if something can’t be beautiful, tidiness is a must. So now I can at least credit my garden with near tidiness. Well, maybe distant tidiness, because those pumpkin vines are pretty unruly. But, friends of mine have come to accept a little unruliness.