Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Not Missing Gardening

I first planted radishes when I was about 8, I think. Radishes always grow when you plant them, but often the tops rocket up (going "to seed") without forming a globe under the ground, and often some little worm eats the radish before you pick it. Truth to tell, radishes are more trouble than they're worth, from a gardener's perspective.

I've been (or I had been) a semi-serious gardener for the last 25 years, and at our most recent abode, we had the whole enchilada: raspberry patch, greenhouse, herb garden, herbs in containers, flower-garden, rose-garden, interesting hedges, peonies, rhododendrons, a camellia, a smoke-tree, and yadda-yadda-yadda. Actually, way back when, the landscaping was designed by a regionally famous garden-guy, who lived there. But we just sold the place, and I gave up gardening, quit the habit, cold. With no regrets, no jonesing to plant or tend anything. It was great while it lasted, and I was as into composting and fighting various fungi as much as the next mildly insane gardener is. But I'd had my fill. Now I associate gardening with what other non-gardeners associate it with: work.

One of those uncanny coincidences: In our last summer at that place and for the first time in my life, I saw rhubarb go to seed. The plant shot some stems up that flowered. It had never done that in all the years we were there, and I'd never seen anyone else's rhubarb go to seed.

So I've given up gardening. Except. Except when and if we move into a condominium, I will probably grow some herbs in containers, chiefly because one of the joys of growing herbs is that you can step outside (if your herb garden is outside) or go to the containers, inside, pick fresh herbs, wash them, and have them in the food you're cooking within minutes. Now that is fresh. And there's something Old School about it.

Rosemary is easy to grow, smells heavenly, is great with chicken and some fish, but is almost impossible to transplant. If a rosemary plant gets old enough, it will become a serious shrub, with real "rosemary wood," which is quite hard, densely fibrous. Basil has a good reputation, but I tended to use it in cooking much less than I thought I would, and it's a bit persnickety, from a gardener's perspective. Chives: easy to grow, full of flavor, versatile. Thyme: heavenly to smell, wonderful in soups and saauces. Oregano: a lot of fun to grow, especially outside, because the bees love that pale purple flowering. Oregano's great with fish, chicken, Italian stuff, soups. Mint: Once you get it started, it's basically impossible NOT to grow it. It's great to walk near it, bend, pick it, crush a leaf, and smell the aroma. Lots of uses, obviously. . . . .

But if I grow herbs, I'm not hurling myself back into the activity. It mustn't be work. But for the effort one puts in, herbs pay one back handsomely.

--A wee poem about gardening, then, one that plays off Stevens's famous "Idea of Order at Key West," but is not in the least as ambitious as that poem; and maybe there's the slightest echo of Richard Hugo's "The Art of Poetry." Here's the poem, a bit of a goodbye to gardening:

The Idea of Disorder In a Garden

Intricacies of fine soil abide.
Writhing worms advise and consent.
Rain stimulates an economy
of chemicals and bacteria. Ah,
Francesca, some people would rather
talk of gardening than garden; others
would rather garden than talk
of anything. You talk as you garden,
a few well chosen words presented
like a bouquet of Russian sage.

Gardens are always on the verge
of becoming something we had not
intended them, in our tending, to be:
This seems to have been your argument,
premised on soil today. My listening, Francesca,
was a kind of cultivation, too.

Copyright 2007
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