As each day rolls into the next I find myself extremely grateful for the opportunity to shelter safely in place. There are many things I miss dearly, even desperately, it’s just that by staying home I can best support those doing the unimaginable work of saving lives, saving our communities, saving our economy.
My son Ethan started talking pandemic in January, we all dismissed him, really not wanting to hear or listen. He bought masks and filters in February, wanting to protect those he loves. He’s a reader, and a knowledge seeker, and now since early March he’s been in lockdown with four of his siblings, his girlfriend, his brother’s girlfriend, and his cousin, guiding and leading them through this moment in time where there’s no foreseeable return to life as we knew it. It’s tough for them, he’s a young lawyer on the upswing of his career, the courts are all closed. His collegiate sisters had plans for a summer fellowship in London, a semester in Paris.
I know it’s tough everywhere for everyone, and I don’t want to appear glib, or unaware of how privileged and fortunate me and my family are while so much real suffering is going on. I’ve been reading the New York Times daily and checking in with CNN on the regular, constantly reminded of the casualties and challenges world-wide.
Early on, the first two weeks of this unfolding, I found great solace in the garden, I made myself go out there every day, raking leaves or cutting out dead wood. I’ve always loved being in the garden, pulling weeds is calming, and therapeutic.
With time on my hands and being a student of life-long learning, I signed up for an online Organic Gardening course offered by Cornell University. I’m second week in, and here I thought I would share with you my week one Journal entry. I’m fortunate that one of my passions is food, and I’m eager to learn good gardening practices and how to cultivate my garden space and even grow some food for our family table. It feels like Mother Nature is angry with us all, if I can restore any goodness to this glorious earth of ours no matter how small it will be a day well spent in my every day dress existence.
My Gardening Role 2020
I’ve always wanted a vegetable garden, the idea feels soulful, and romantic. The summer of 2018 while out at the animal feed store with my husband I picked various sad looking six packs, and thought ‘oh, what the hell’.
These six packs were random, and leggy. Two or three kinds of tomatoes, peppers, kale, basil, parsley, and some zinnia for good measure. We were in the middle of prepping our summer country house for an at-home wedding reception for our oldest daughter Caroline, expecting two hundred plus guests the eleventh day of August.
There’s a long sweeping bed of all kinds of things between our house and our pool, over the years I’ve moved hostas into shady areas and small rose bushes where sunny, and amongst some peony. We were all systems go that summer, renovating a barn, reseeding our huge lawn, and basically kind of getting the entire site ready for what felt like a very royal visit.
In my hurried haste I simply got my hand trowel out, moved some mulch around on that long sweeping bed, dug a few holes, pinched back the sorry little plants, and planted all of them, mixing them all up while putting them down in groups of three: three parsley here at the front of the bed, three tomato right behind them, some kale on the other side of the bed with peppers and zinnia all close by. Some basil at the fore, and more parsley over there. I watched them, and watered them, and by wedding day I had this glorious little riot of abundance, never in my mind did I think what I was doing resembled anything close to the technique of interplanting. I picked the peppers and tomatoes in the heat of the summer, and harvested zinnia, basil, and parsley into the early fall.
My city house garden was basically just minimally maintained that year. Oh, but we had mowers on the regular collecting all that green in big bags behind big riding machines, and spring and fall cleanups handled by a crew, and paid by the hour. I did do container gardens rotations, nine large vessels doted around our entryways, patio, and attached garage, rotating pansies early spring, some flowering things I got at the grocery and had no idea what, then daisies, and then chrysanthemums. I felt frenzied, changing those pots, and simply dug the spent ones out and disposed of them who knows where.
Back at the country house on a whim husband and I decided to throw in some raised beds (why not?), and I filled those with broccoli, cauliflower, and even tried artichoke, all organized and in neat rows, square foot gardening, woo-hoo!
Of course, I also had to redo a landscape bed close to the house, we had a wedding coming up (!), and we had to look good. In came topsoil (I think it was topsoil?) creating a sloping bed for nine, or was it eleven, Endless Summer hydrangea.
I can’t even tell you we hung beetle bags from ski poles all around, simply bad. Those were removed pre-party.
The entire wedding scheme was white, black, and shades of blue- I wanted blue hydrangea, and big hydrangea, so I fed those things regularly with that stuff in the plastic bag from the nursery that promises great big blue blooms.
We had a show, and a party like none other. Two hundred and ten guests partying around our property with raised beds, a pond with twinkle lights (!), blue hydrangea, vegetables, geraniums, and even potted wisteria, because of course, bluer, it was a wedding!
Not once did I pause to put anything remotely organic back into that property or even have a thought of rebuilding the soil; no manure, no compost, no leaves. Sure, I saved kitchen scraps and coffee grounds, less garbage (!), and then I simply walked to our property edge and tossed them up into the air, letting them fall to the ground, wherever whatever.
We closed up the pool, closed up the season. At least I had some sense to move those huge pots of wisteria to a mulch pile where they could be protected and to move the geranium into the house, just like my grandmother used to do maybe forty-five years ago. That was it- I did nothing else that would qualify as a good gardening practice to ensure a good or even sustainable gardening season for the next year.
Well that year, 2019, the garden was an afterthought, town and country. Again, we had lawn guys, and maybe (absolutely) some turf team and again I did containers (to keep up with the neighbors!). The raised beds were gone, moved to the garage. No tomatoes, no basil, no poor attempts at compost. For we were in Europe! Traveling around Spain, four weeks in Provence, weekend jaunts to Switzerland- the entire family, ten of us in all.
I would go to markets, and buy not perfect fruit, and uneven vegetables. Tomatoes every day, every meal. Walk into town to buy bread, and to try and speak French for some chicken. We would cook, and toss salad, drink wine, and linger for hours at the outdoor dining table, heaven on earth. Those garden dinners seemed peaceful, the food felt authentic, and the gardens quietly elegant. We had a time.
I’ve always been passionate about food, and mealtime. I read cookbooks in bed. Trained to be a professional chef online. I wake up thinking about what’s for dinner. I carefully choose my produce and make scratch stock on the regular. Linen napkins, candles, and simple flowers on the table all on the regular. It took me decades of trial to get where I am in the kitchen, able to put out a better than most restaurants quality meal for two or even eighty. Now my kids, all six of them aged thirty-one to nineteen all cook, and cook for one another, and count breaking bread together as one of the best parts of the day.
It’s now time in my life journey to really consider the food, and the flowers. To study the source, and to be able to make compost like I can easily make stock. Sharpen my tools like I sharpen my knives. Rebuild my soil like I thoughtfully and knowingly restock my pantry. Be as careful with harmful additives to the earth as I am with our food choices for our bodies. Have gardening become part of my daily routine just as cooking and eating is.
Soon my husband and I will travel by car to Boston. We will move into our new one-bedroom flat below our daughter and son-in-law’s three-bedroom townhouse. We will stay for weeks; I might be there a month or more. She is having her first child, our first grandchild, and there is a small yard. I will cook and feed us all while we await the birth, and I’ll be in that very small yard, helping them establish their very first garden.
This garden, this Boston garden, and this birth are all new beginnings. Our lives have all changed in unfathomable ways these past several weeks, this global pandemic killing hundreds of thousands, the economic crisis crippling millions. For us, the healthy and privileged, there are no more trips to Europe on the horizon, even the grocery store is a remarkable effort, the irony of it all. We’re working from home and sheltering-in-place, none of my family together, yet.
I have three opportunities to garden this season, city, country, and Boston, yes, I’m blessed. My blessings come with a profound yearning to provide for my family a sense of peace, and well-being. To nourish them through food and surroundings, to cultivate a space that feels safe.
My gardening role for 2020 is to learn and practice good gardening habits, to learn how to rebuild the soil, to grow some food and some flowers. I can’t heal illness and I’m not really good at creating jobs. I can put some good in the world, I can bring us together over shared meals, creating memories, and community. I’ll have that vegetable garden; we’ll dine outdoors in a space that feels magical. We’ll be twelve or more, we’re growing as a family, and we will have a time, again. In forty-five years maybe this new child will overwinter geraniums as well.