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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Zen of Gardening

I haven't really blogged a lot lately.  It's been hard to find nice things to blog about.

And then I put in my garden.

It's been two years since I've had a garden. 

The last year in our old house, since I knew we were going to list our house I didn't put one in.  The year before our then newly adopted dog mistook my tomatoes for balls.  THAT was frustrating. Then, our first year in our new house, we were building the pool and there wasn't time to put one in.

I almost didn't get one set up this year.

Fortunately, El Nino was on my side and we had a freakishly cool spring and I was able to get one set up.

Boy have I missed it.

I first started gardening at 7.

You read that right.


I stumbled upon a book in the library about postage stamp gardening for kids.  I went home, dug up part of the yard much to my parents surprise and went to town planting my first garden.

I'm not kidding.

They were a little less than thrilled.

I had a habit of replanting tree seedlings all over the yard so they figured at least they would help me set it up.  Try to reign it in a bit.

They didn't need to help me- I had my book, I was good to go.

I also had the benefit of Mr. Morrison who lived behind us and was a retired farmer.  He thought it was fun to watch me get excited about my garden.

I learned that nitrogen created too much leaf and not enough fruit- great for growing spinach, not great for tomatoes.

I also learned that horse manure had more nitrogen than cow manure.  It was better for your leafy crops, but in general if you were going with manure, cow was the better, more versatile bet.

(This became an interesting tidbit as I went off to my fancy Ivy League college in central New York- an area even more rural than where I grew up.

I was driving with some friends with from the New York City area and we went past a field and one of them commented about the nasty smell of cow shit.

I said, without hesitation said "Oh no- that's horse shit."

They all got quiet and started laughing.

So I added "Horse shit has a much more pungent aroma due to the higher nitrogen concentration..."

We then drove past a horse farm and they all looked at me, a little surprised and a little impressed.  Not a cow in site.

"What can I say?  I know my shit."

Taught them city folk a thing or two.)

So flash ahead, I'm living in Las Vegas, I went a little crazy with houseplants.  When we finally got our first house, I was THRILLED to put in a real garden.  I also had the advantage that my father-in-law was a gardener.  In fact, I married into a ranching family that was one of the original ranching families in the areas.  He gave me great tips on gardening in the desert.  We didn't have much in common, but we both lit up when we talked about gardening.

One argument we had was about corn.  He said I couldn't grow it.  I bet him that I could. 

Unfortunately, he passed away before I harvested anything from my garden.

As my corn came in, I found out that I needed to hand pollinate.  That included pulling back the husks, separating the silks and massaging the pollen into the ears.

Yes.  It was hilarious as it sounds.

And to make it even funnier as my husband watched me hand pollinate the corn, I cranked up the stereo with Barry White.

We got corn.  I won the bet.

I've just never had the heart to plant it again, though.

My husband, however, has had many times to laugh at me in the garden.  There's my hat for one thing.  Gotta have a hat.

There was also that time the middle of the night when I went outside, covered it in blankets and kept my tomatoes warm with my blow dryer during the first early frost. 

Yes.  I did that.

My kids helped me from the time they were small.  My son when he was a toddler had a habit of picking my watermelons and bringing them to me to announce they weren't ready yet.  I eventually stopped planting them.  A picture of him watering the tomatoes when he was 2 used to be part of the master gardener tomato class- "So easy even a 2 year old can do it!"

One of my favorite memories with my daughter was when she was about 4 months old and I had her on a blanket as I weeded my herb garden. I had her smell each herb.  She loved the lemon thyme and basil.  The mint made her wrinkle her nose.  I remember how she closed her eyes and took deep breaths- like she knew what we were doing.  It was magical.

In fact, if you ever want to see me completely get excited about something- ask me about gardening.  I could go on for hours.

There is something about putting a seed in dirt and watching it grow that brings me peace.

Gardening taught me patience.

It only goes so fast.

Gardening taught me that no matter how perfect the plan, you have to adjust the plan as you go.  There are just some variables you can't manage.  This year's El Nino-- never had plant fungus before... learned a few new things.

Gardening has taught me that the environment matters.  That nurturing matters.  That the seed matters.  You can't just plant something and expect it to thrive.  You have to watch it.  But if you do too much, you can kill it- over fertilize, over water, over do it.

Gardening taught me that what's under the ground matters as much as what's above the ground.  Pretty leaves and flowers don't mean anything if you have grubs and a weak root system.  

Gardening taught me that every plant needs different things.  Root veggies need more calcium and phosphorus.  Tomatoes need more calcium and to rotate because they can't grow in the same place year after year or they will stop producing.  Certain vegetables compliment each other.  Others don't.  Some pretty flowers are great pesticides- like marigolds- and others are wonderful at attracting bees- like echinacea.  And of course, without bees, you have nothing.

So gardening taught me balance- you need the little bugs to eat the grubs, the bees to pollinate, the lady bugs to eat the aphids... everything has a purpose and a role.

But this year, my garden has brought me peace.

It made me slow down.  My kids are remembering the taste of fresh vegetables.  They both spent much of their childhoods pulling cherry tomatoes off plants an eating them.  They get to do that again.  I like knowing that if I need herbs, they are out in my garden.  Every morning, the dogs go out to  "walk the fields and check the crops" with me and get a treat of fresh kale. 

I joined an online group of fellow Las Vegan gardeners and it's made Facebook fun again.  I even went to a rose society meeting and met some really interesting people. 

Apparently, gardening has even more to offer me.

So maybe to you, it looks like I planted a garden.

To me, I planted a little bit of heaven- or at least what I imagine it must be.

Armenian Cucumber blossom
A green pepper about to be born....
Eggplant blossom.

In just a few weeks it's already busting at the seems- it doesn't even look like this... it's like a baby picture....

Marigolds- nature's pesticide.  So pretty yet so stinky.

Maters in the desert.

Next venture... roses...