(Crossposted from Silk And Shadows)
My life is neatly broken into three parts: Day job, sleeping, writing. Sometimes, one or the other or the other will take over for a bit: Sleeping on weekends; writing when I’m on deadline; day job when rent is due. But all work and no play makes for a psychotic writer, or so I learned from THE SHINING, so I also try to keep up on a few hobbies. And summertime is for gardening.
I’d never had a garden of my own until I met my XY. In the small Colorado mountain town of Minturn, he decided he wanted fresh, garden-grown tomatoes. We turned a coffin-sized patch of the duplex parking lot into a planting bed. After we’d pulled out an almost ski-able hill of rocks, the neighbor hung over the fence and announced, “You can’t grow tomatoes in the mountains.”
Ha, little did he know. The neighbor didn’t understand that enthusiasm and love — and a hearty dose of beginner’s luck supplemented by Miracle-Gro — can make up for a lot, even in a ridiculously short growing season.
Since then, I’ve always had a garden with flowers, fruits and vegetables. During the good weather, I use the garden as an excuse to be outside puttering, but I’ve also learned a lot about life and writing from my garden.
Productive: Over the years, we’ve learned to trim, thin and cull the non-producers. With limited resources — time, space and money — every plant must justify its continued existence. Same thing goes for chapters in a book. If the tension isn’t growing and the conflict won’t bear fruit… snip.
Practical: Although we managed to grow tomatoes in Colorado, we’ve found sometimes it’s better to recognize your limits. The Pacific Northwest makes amazing berries so we’ve lined our fences with raspberries, marionberries and blueberries, but we’ve given up on melons. We don’t have enough light and heat to make them sweet. Kinda like my writing voice, which isn’t sweet either. It wasn’t until I found my dark heroes that I really settled in to the kind of stories I was meant to tell.
Pretty: Despite the hard-line approach above, not everything in my garden is grown for food. Sometimes, beauty is enough. I don’t have much room for stargazer lilies or extended metaphors, but if there’s an untended corner where one can bloom in secret, until it bursts out in all it’s glory, too late to deny… Well, that corner wasn’t doing anything anyway.
Patience: Waiting for a garden tomato to flower, swell greenly, and finally ripen to gleeful red is — as far as I can tell — the one time that patience as a virtue is actually rewarded. So while I don’t necessarily condone it as a virtue, it is a useful skill elsewhere in life since the pursuit of most dreams — writing included — seems to demand a generous top dressing of it.
Perseverance: The garden is hard work. From spring compost spreading to harvest to tilling under, the buckets of produce come at a cost. Even during the waiting time in the middle (which happens to be about now) when all the plants are prepared but the big push hasn’t quite arrived, there’s plenty of weeding and watering. Sometimes we debate whether it wouldn’t just be easier to get everything at the farmer’s market. We could show up on a Sunday morning, sweat-free and undirtied, and pop everything we want into our cute reusable bags.
But it wouldn’t be our tomatoes, our blueberries, our roses. So we keep at it, rotating crops, trying new things (corn, this year, and a lovely Mexican feather grass in a hot, dry part of the yard), always learning, enjoying the fruits — and vegetables — of our efforts, however small and tart they might be.
After all, there’s always next year.
Are you a hobby gardener? I’d love to hear about your favorite plantings, especially if they’d flourish in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re the kind of person who makes even silk flowers wither, I once heard having a brown thumb can’t be all bad since brown is the color of dirt.