Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Backyard Gardening for Amateurs

I always feel sad for the poor, unsuspecting plants that find their way into our home, as their days are most certainly numbered. There are few people more adept at killing plants than Chef Matt and myself. We have driven hardy house plants to early deaths and easily destroyed a whole row of hostas, that Green Beret of yard plants.

The exception has been our little backyard garden. Most of the work is left to the whims of weather; the responsibility of regular (or even occasional) watering and correct lighting is not in our hands, which is likely the reason our herbs and vegetables survive past June. We plant in May, and then glance at our little fenced plot on our way to the garage all summer, hoping that something will eventually produce edibles. Our cucumbers were quickly gobbled up by some industrious neighborhood animal, but otherwise, Mother Nature has prevailed, in spite of our ineptitude.

Our horticultural limitations certainly curb the types of foods we can grow. Not for us anything delicate or temperamental. We prefer plants like thyme, which can be buried under snow for several months and sprout fresh in the spring without any pruning or replanting or fertilizer. Cherry tomatoes require a little more love, but simply ensuring that the stalks are tied to the tomato cage guarantees a plant heavy with clusters of fruit.

We don't plant a backyard garden with any sort of ambition. Our garden will never be one of those glorious quarter-acres of sunshiny vegetables peeking out from beneath leafy greens, carefully organized for maximum capacity. We are always a little surprised when things actually grow. For us, the great pleasure of our garden is just nearness. It is highly satisfying to step out our backdoor, pluck a few leaves of fresh basil, inhale the sharp, clean scent, and sprinkle the product of our wee sprout on tomatoes and a lovely mozzarella.

Despite our general inability to make things grow, we'll always try to keep something that resembles a garden for the sheer enjoyment of brushing the dirt off chives before we stir them into a cream sauce. Someday, we may try to plant more than a twelve-foot-square space, as long as the sun and rain continue to keep our garden alive so we don't have to.

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