Oh, my garden, must I say goodbye to you? This is the time of year when I begin my countdown to December 21, when we will have made it through the darkest days of the year, and the sun will begin adding minutes to the day. I’m one of those who knows to the second how much more light we get from one day to the next. A lifelong northerner who hates cold and loathes the darkness of winter, the days from January through March are days of endurance, days of gritted teeth, days of so many layers of clothes that no one, including me, knows what I really look like. (Could I survive in Alaska, at least in the winter? Obviously not.)
So a garden is a thing of beauty to me. Flowers. Vegetables. I moved into this house a year and a half ago and have been digging ever since. Minneapolis is a horizontal city, which means, for better and for worse, that it’s primarily a city of single-family homes, each with a front and back yard. Small (in my case very) and urban, but still, room to dig.
My friend Oreo helped me build a raised vegetable bed in the backyard. 6×12. Measure it out in your mind or in your living room, and you’ll see that a 6×12 bed is not big. You’d be surprised how much you can grow in that little space though. Here’s what grew in mine this summer: a myriad tomatoes (from heirloom to cherry to Big Boys), eggplant, green beans; red lettuce, green lettuce, spinach, arugula, green peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, catmint, chives, carrots, beets, something that I thought was zucchini (which I love and can’t ever get enough of – take that, anti-zucchini people) but that turned out to be some sort of pumpkin-like squash, and four kinds of basil. (Good Lord, typing out this list, I sit here wondering if it’s even possible to cram that many vegetables into a 6×12′ bed, but honest to God I swear it is.)
And then there were, and still are, the flowers. I dug up my boulevard last year, after we moved in, and planted a whole ton of perennials, and though a few neighbors predicted that the salt from the road de-icer would kill them all, survive and thrive they did. This summer my neighbor Kathie dug hers up too, and now we gaze happily upon our flowering boulevards.
I planted a strawberry patch by the side of the house, which I didn’t water much. And I travel a lot, so I doubly didn’t water it much. And every day I was home I made a mental note to water the strawberries, but I didn’t. This is because I am a loser, but still, the strawberries are still alive, if berry-free, and ditto for the raspberry canes and the Seedless Concord Grapes.
I dug up a big portion of the backyard and planted it with tiny half-dead perennials that I bought for $.15 each at a church rummage sale. The tiny half-dead perennials were not labeled, so I didn’t know what the hell I was planting, other than that they were perennials. Within hours after planting, they sprang to life and grew wildly despite dogs peeing on them, dogs pooping on them, dogs playing tag throughout them, and the aforementioned at-most-haphazard (although more frequently than the berries, thank God) watering.
What did the tiny half-dead perennials turn out to be? They turned out to be echinacea, rudbeckia, daisies, and a couple of other things that because of my ignorance shall remain nameless. But pretty. Nameless but pretty.
In my mania I dug up another long patch by the nearly sun-free back of the house and strewed the newly-dug soil with zinnia seeds (the giant kind, which are by far my favorites) and, behind the zinnia seeds, Shasta Daisy seeds. These seeds were from eight-year-old packets, and it was my personal experiment to see if they would sprout at all, since they had been through rain, abandonment in winter garages, and multiple moves. But sprout they did, and here is a picture of those giant zinnias, here at the end of their season of gorgeousness. Behind them also sprouted the Shasta Daisies, but because of the near-total lack of sun, they are very small. But there are very many of them, and it’s my secret plan to transplant them all next year to various other places on the boulevard and around the house.
Yes, that is my secret plan. And now I begin the forward look to December 21, when the sun will once again begin to outlast the darkness.