Saturday, June 01, 2013

a beautiful mess

We had endless days of sunshine in April, and I spent most of my extra time in the garden.  Digging new ground takes quite a bit of work.  With only a shovel and a hoe it is slow, back-breaking work.  Square meter by square meter.

We removed the grass and uncovered rusty nails the size of a baby's arm, tin foil, old plastic pots, and stonework.  We pulled up nettle roots and an army of cockchafer grubs.  We dug up kitchenware, half-burnt logs, and the remains of a forgotten compost heap.  We watered the soil with our sweat by day, and discovered our bodies awash with a multitude of harvest mite and midge bites by night.

We also cleaned the greenhouse, overrun with moss and algae from years of disuse.   Without an outside tap, this meant lugging bowl after bowl of hot water and scrub brushes from the kitchen sink down the hill to where our greenhouse rests near the back garden.  Once the sun could shine through the streaked glass, we started on the soil.  We discovered that soil that hasn't seen rain for several years actually repels water.

Tucked around the side of the greenhouse we found a large rain barrel.  It was full to the brim with a thick layer of slime on top and smelled strongly of algae and something I couldn't put my finger on.   Next to the barrel was a coiled up hose, and we used it to siphon some of the water out.  The pungent smell only intensified, so we tipped the barrel over and let its contents run down into the small apple orchard.  In the bottom of the barrel remained the carcass of a large rat.  What wasn't already decomposed was still bloated.

We lugged more water from the kitchen faucet.  More buckets than we could count.  We dug in large amounts of compost, and still the rising dust choked my lungs.  It wasn't perfect, but we planted.  Slowly at first.  A few purchased starts, some seeds.  We cleaned off the potting table and began in earnest, sorting seeds, checking the calendar for optimal planting days, filling our pots, watering, and waiting.  Slowly, ever slowly, things started to grow-- both things we planted and seeds that had been waiting in that soil for years.

And naturally, we weeded, both inside and out.  We pulled out dandelions and couch grass, horsetail and bindweed.  And then we pulled out an inordinate number of weeds we could not name.  The more we weeded, the more weeds seemed to grow.  Gardening is like that.  Initial effort leads to the need for continued effort.  It is never finished.  That's not the nature of gardening.

But after weeks of steady work, we have something to show for the effort.  We have a garden teaming with both vegetable plants and weeds.  Though the forces of nature are forever trying to enclose itself back upon our work, we now have spinach, salad greens and arugula ready for harvesting.

Despite the fact that it was a heck of a lot of work, it still doesn't look like much.  I could get down and capture the magnificence of individual plants, particles of soil where the weeds have been cleverly pinched out.  I could find the right angle and photoshop around the edges so you can't see the dying cucumbers or the teeming piles of rubbish in the neighbor's yard.  I could show you the overflowing colander of freshly washed spinach leaves, the bright arugula pesto, or the delicate ornamental salad arranged on our best plate with just a trickle of mustard-laced balsamic and fresh mint.

As bloggers, we do that all the time.  We aim to inspire through minutiae, through cleverly focused shots of our food, our children, our clothes, and yes, even our gardens.  Even though the big picture tells a similar story, we can't see it.  When we pull back our focus, the line between extraordinary and ordinary gets blurred, and suddenly we are drowning in the mundane everydayness of it all.  We are small.  Our accomplishments are dwarfed by the lens, so that we appear puny in our normalcy, by the realness of it all.  And we are not anything, if not extraordinary.

I just don't have the energy lately to appear extraordinary, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

With the lens pulled back, this is my garden.

As you can see, it's far from perfect.  It's actually somewhat of a mess.  It's a beautiful mess, though.  A mess with a history, wrought by countless hours of sweat and tears.  A mess with promise, possibility, and potential.

Oh, how it reminds me of homeschooling.

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