Despite my lack of training and only sporadic success, my passion for flowers and gardening borders on primal. The psychological connection to growing life is obvious, but it’s the satisfaction of getting my hands dirty in the outdoors, too physically consumed in the work to focus on my daily worries, that often feels like therapy.
Sometimes I deadhead roses in solitude to methodically clear the clutter in my head. Other days, Sweetlips & The Bean help me prepare our summer bulbs and dig holes for the carrots they proudly plant. Despite a partnerhship with my husband, much of my job feels solitary, but this is a project with responsibilities that my boys and I can share together. (Mike struggles with the garden hose, so this type of work is not a good fit for him.) When I really need uplifting, I’ll give myself a summer Friday, play my favorite music through the speakers and spend the whole day singing and tilling the Earth. In full disclosure, I once did this for hours on a 100 degree day and Mike came home to find me saying “Hello” to the wheelbarrow. Happy, albeit delusional: life lessons from the garden.
Some of it, I have realized is instinctual, like my relationship with the old-fashioned rose bush I lovingly brought back from the dead when we moved into our turn of the century farmhouse. The stairs were collapsing, carpet removal uncovered holes in the floor that exposed the dirt below and the pool quickly took on the appearance of a swamp. One day in our dream home and it felt like we were starring in a remake of “The Money Pit.” I decided that if I could bring back this decrepid and forgotten rose bush, I could bring back “The Barnhouse.” Our finicky abode will always be a work in progress, but that now spectacular rose bush, which I nurture like a child, gives me hope.
Other plantings have been trial and a lot of error. When we were still living in Los Angeles, I became compulsively determined to grow bougainvilla on our small deck. Each week my bougainvilla plant died and each weekend I went back to purchase another one. After months of nursery runs and shattered hopes, a friend not-so-gently pointed out that bougainvilla bloom with abandon everywhere in LA — gas stations being her first example — and perhaps gardening was not my strongsuit. While I never gave up, that bougainvilla always alluded me. Looking back I can now see that regularly firing up a barbecue grill inches in front of the trellis that I was hoping flowers would climb was not well thought out. Actual fire, it turns out, is not the same thing as full sun.
In addition to reading gardening books and looking for advice online, I now ask tons of questions when I’m beginning a new project. I cornered someone knowledgeable at the garden store and borderline interrogated him before constructing our first raised vegetable bed last year. I took actual notes while he answered my rapid fire questions, ranging from the time frame that each vegetable could be planted to how many mint crops I’d need to grow mimosas all summer long. This patient man finally put his hands up in surrender and quickly removed the piles of beautifully packaged seeds from my shopping basket (they were going to look so nice on instagram!), replacing them with container plants that could withstand my lack of expertise. Being green, ahem, I had no idea that I would need to cultivate the seeds indoors before they were ready to be transfered to the ground. When we construct my fantasy greenhouse, I can promise that I will be learning to start from seed, but thanks to the expert, we had the freshest tomatoes and basil (caprese, anyone?) all summer long.
Since I am clearly just a hobbyist, here are a few places for inspiration and tips, as well a selection of garden variety goods that are going to look so chic in that greenhouse one day:
I am patiently awaiting the arrival of my copy of Salad for President, the debut cookbook by Julia Sherman, creator of the "Salad for President" blog, which thoughtfully shares anecdotes and interviews along with complimenting salad recipes in collaboration with people "living their lives" artfully. It's pretty genius and, well, very cool.