The Darwin Garden

Mother Nature has a way of humbling us all. This year we thought we had the garden all figured out. We purchased a lot of heritage and heirloom seeds. We created a very logical garden plan for our deer-fenced 30’x20′ raised bed veggie garden. We added organic soil and compost. The books about companion planting had all been read and earmarked, so the cucumbers would be planted with the corn, the tomatoes with the peppers, whatever the books advised, and all would be well.

Next we purchased new plastic seed starter trays with lids, and organic starter material. Seeds were planted in blocks, all nicely marked with paper slips taped to the outside of the trays, and these were placed on a long, oblong Costco table in the dining room window where the Southern exposure is perfect. Soon we had a table full of beautiful little seedlings.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we left for almost two weeks in Hawaii on a trip that we’d planned since before the pandemic to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from her medical residency. Talk about delayed gratification! No one deserved this trip more than she did. She and her husband were meeting us on the Big Island, and although we had to be tested and vaccinated up the ying yang, and a rental car there ultimately cost us three times what it normally should have, we made all the arrangements to go, and indeed left for our trip.

Part of those arrangements meant having someone care for our house, our dogs, and cats, and asking the lovely house/pet sitter to just make sure the veggie starts were kept slightly moist. Sure enough, when we returned, the house was immaculate, the animals were happy and well-cared for, and the plants were a bedraggled mess covered in white mold. All the paper slips identifying each type of seedling had been completely soaked and were now illegible. At least, I reasoned, only the plants had been forced to walk the plank, and not the animals. Still…

Some of these poor wilted things just collapsed in my fingers and took their last remaining breaths as I touched them, but enough unidentified dying objects looked as though, with some sunshine and various pagan rituals, they might just make it. Heaven only knew, at this point, what these plants were meant to have been, poor things, but I guessed at some and took a chance with others, planting them in the prepared garden soil in a wild patchwork quilt rather than the nice hand-drawn garden plan that we now used to line the kitty litter box.

Corn did manage to come up among cukes. We have tomato jungles in two or three places, no staking, no nothing, but tons of tiny orange tomatoes and cocktail-sized red ones. There are a few large heirloom tomatoes in the rosemary. We have the biggest catnip plant west of the Mississippi, into which our cats throw themselves once a day, emerging silly but happy. The lettuces, which seemed so promising, were eventually smothered and killed by enormous squash plants of indeterminate origin that now trail across the gravel walkways leaving hubbard and acorn squashes in their wake. Chard and kale have found their way into strange locations and seem indomitable. The French tarragon and the parsley have wintered over against all odds, and under the cabbage we’ve discovered summer savory and marjoram. Who knew?

I swear we will do better next year. For now the pathetic-looking broccoli and curly kale seem to have found their will to live and are breathing on their own. The garden and I have made a pact. I am going nowhere next year. Nowhere. I will stay and tend this garden until it accepts my sincerest apologies for a beautiful season wasted. Meanwhile, the little tomatoes are absolutely delicious.

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