House & Home

5 Things I Learned This Week: Gardens and Gardening

My first little garden.

When I was little, my mother used to take me to the garden center. We’d stay there for what felt like hours, walking every aisle, examining every plant. My mother was so happy among the leaves and flowers, the smell of recently watered soil. Sometimes we bought something, sometimes we didn’t. My mother was happy to browse.

These were my least favorite outings. I didn’t understand: we weren’t gardeners. Not really. Mom had some houseplants and she sometimes planted flowers. Mostly, by her own admission, she had a “black thumb,” meaning the plants in her care would inevitably wither. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t dream.

Now that I’m older, I’m starting to understand. No, I don’t drag my kids through the garden center–especially because my daughter is obsessed with flowers and would beg me to buy them like other kids beg for toys–but I find myself drawn to the idea of growing things. There’s a competency required to coax food from the soil (I’m far too practical for flowers; I’ve planted a few perennials at my daughter’s request but I refuse to waste energy on blooms that need regular replanting), a feeling of accomplishment that comes with a crop.

Or so I assume. I have yet to harvest anything from my garden but this year, I’ve decided I will grow something. I’ve got zucchini plants out back (which I grew from seeds!) and potatoes that I’ve planted totally improperly but seem to be growing anyway and a burgeoning pumpkin vine and a tower of tomato blossoms. I’ve planted so much in part to hedge my bets: if only one of these projects bears fruit (or vegetable), I will consider myself successful.

I first planted these things more than a month ago. Now, as they enter some sort of vegetal adolescence, I find myself flipping through books and searching the internet for reassurances, tips, tricks–anything to help me nurse my plants through to fruition. Not everything I’ve found is going to make me a great gardener, but here are some highlights of my research:

The word “bumper” used to refer to a glass of wine, filled to the brim. Thus, an abundant harvest became known as a “bumper crop.”

If you want to grow potatoes at home, you can build a bottomless wooden box for a planter, then lift the box away from the dirt when you’re ready to harvest, rather than digging them up.

There are quite a few books out there about how gardens and other landscapes influenced writers such as Emily Dickinson and Beatrix Potter.

You can lure slugs away from your plants with beer… or just lure them toward your plants and turn your garden into a gastropub.

Gardening is good for your health.

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