We spent our weekend packing up the house. Everything has found a box, tub, trash bag, or junk purgatory. It’s gone shockingly faster than I thought it would. During the packing, I’ve had my share of Gosh, I’ve got too much stuff! and Man! I’m soooo excited for the next chapter. or Oh! I’m going to miss this place. Yeah, I’ll miss this place.
After lunch and some glorious time with David and Betsy, I went to check on my garden. This little garden has been quite the adventure. I was stoked this year to finally have some ground to break. Last year my rooftop garden restricted me to anything that would grow in a small pot. And I ended up leaving half-way through the growing season, so I didn’t get to see much of it through.
Even though there was ground to dig in, this year’s garden was NOT simple. First there was the soil. Newark’s soil is laden with lead, toxins, and other junk, so my Master Gardener friend, Kortlyn, advised using bought soil. So she bought some. And . . . well. . . it turned out to be more clay than topsoil. Bummer. I had already started plenty of seeds indoors. About 60 tomatoes, 10 peppers, 5 squash, 5 zucchini, lots of different herbs, cucumbers, and lettuce. However, these plants ended up sitting and getting old on me. And the soil was still crap.
Next mission was buy nutrient-rich soil, mix it in with the clay. About that time, our friend Brian came to visit. He ALSO is a Master Gardener and was a huge help. He suggested the rows to maximize depth and drainage – apparentely another problem I had, but didn’t know about. Yes! Foolish idea now, but I had used roofing paper – the stuff that’s not supposed to leak water – to put a barrier between Newark’s junky soil and my non-toxic soil. Jokes on me, cuz the good soil can’t drain with roofing paper underneath it. Therefore my precious flora were drowning – literally. Brian was very gracious and did not make me feel like an idiot as he pointed out the flaws of the garden. In a few hours, we had 3 rows, transplanted plants, and a feeling of satisfaction. That was June.
At first nothing grew much, save my oregano. The plants didn’t wilt, they just stayed the same. I wasn’t embarrassed about the wimpy little garden until Cynthia. I don’t know much of her story, but she’s got some wear and tear from life like us all. She talks loudly, swears profusely, uses a cane, looks frail as a butterfly’s wing, and could very well be unhealthily addicted to . . . several substances. Not sure. However, she took it upon herself to berate me one day as she waited for her ‘ole man to catch up.’ I would quote her tongue, though it’s not G-rated, so suffice it to say she called the garden ugly, a piece of poo, tiny, and said I had a black thumb! Then she proceeded to give me advice on what I should do. Surprise crossed my face when the words she said jived exactly with what Master Gardeners Brian and Kortlyn and Grandma J had said. Great! Now I’ve got a crack-head telling me how to grow these freakin’ plants! That was early July.
Mid-July there was an explosion of growth. The cucumber shot up the lattice. Tomato plants sagged with stalks and leaves. Squash vines spilled over the edges. While Basil grew in bushes. Fabulous! . . . yet, still no yield. I may have a black thumb, but any fool can see my plants should have been producing, since Kortlyn’s beds that are 50 feet away were rich with a harvest.
I shifted my focus from “I want to eat food that I’ve grown” to “At least I know the soil’s ready for growing next year.”
Now it’s August, and I’m leaving in two weeks. Last week I harvested our first yellow squash. Got to share it with a couchsurfer. When I checked the garden today, I was shocked to see two more squash growing, one adorable cucumber, two baby jalepeno peppers, and blushing grape tomatoes! Even the Columbines I rescued from the trash, who had bloomed months ago and died out, are back with a kiss of color. All the exclamations in the world could not contain my elation.
“It figures. Just as I’m leaving, everything starts blooming and producing. It’ll all probably be ready the week after we’re gone.” I couldn’t help but smile as I scoffed.
Sean says that it’s very telling of our experience here. It’s all starting to bloom just as we’re leaving – relationships, our place in the community, our coping skills at living in the city, even the garden.
Yeah, this garden tells me many things. 1) I can’t do it alone. Grandma J, my mother, Kortlyn, Sean, Brian, Cynthia were all apart of the struggle, frustration, theory, and joy. 2) Nature attracts people. Like the Brasilian guy who smokes his cigars atnight while standing watch over the lettuce. The Jamacian gentleman who keeps one eye on the bus stop, and the other on the squashes’ progress. The mentally disabled girl who loved digging holes for the plants. The kids who fight to water it. People love caring for the tiny green space. 3) Usually in life, I have to release my expectations. It seemed that as soon as it got blistering hot, the plants started to wither, Cynthia criticized, I decided I didn’t care about a harvest. I was okay knowing the soil was good for someone to use next year. I relinquished my choke hold on the outcome, and BAM! Everything flourished. 4) Often things start to bloom when you’re leaving.