I am having a bit of a crisis with one of my plants. It is a large ginger that sits near the television and is truly quite a looker. This fall I added some houseplants as a way to get some green living things in my life before the snow and the cold made everything bleak. I got them free from a landscaper friend and the others are all in various levels of health. The ferns seem happy. The bamboo...I don't even know how to read but I think it needs water. My two old plants--an ancient Ficus older than my marriage and a Spider Plant--look like the grizzled survivors they are. It is this ginger plant that is bothering me right now though.
A few days ago yellow leaves started to appear. I did some reading and I learned that it could be too much water...or not enough water...or too much sun...or not enough sun...or an incurable disease. Good times. After a few days of stress I bit the bullet and watered off schedule. The other plants--except maybe that bamboo--don't seem to need much as long as it is regular. Now I wait to see if I drowned it.
I think it is time for a garden roundup. The year has ended and so has the growing season. Maybe it is time to take a look at how things went and consider the future.
This year was a bit of a baseline project. I have pretty much always had a garden in the same way I have always hiked. I do it...but not well. Of course there are differences. Hiking is something with a simple skill set. The living thing you take care of is yourself. The basics--putting one foot in front of the other--are obvious. On a hike you are testing yourself, your physical ability, mental fortitude and skill. Gardening is all of that with added levels of complexity as the ecology of our surroundings have their own ideas.
This is the story of the ginger plant. They aren't built to live near a TV in New England. For all intents and purposes the plant--all the houseplants, in fact, and in some sense the outdoors plants as well--is in the same situation as the ones in those tiny alpine ecosystems clinging to the cracks in a rocky ledge. All of them are desperately trying to make a home in a place with limited resources. The alpine plants are actually better situated. They have adapted to live in those environments. The ginger, the ferns, ficus and so on are dependent on the relative competence of a middle-aged practical theologian with no real sense of what they need.
So we have to ask ourselves, as people who care for plants, a number of questions. Broadly speaking, How do we make a curated space for growing things? What sort of dialogue between grower, subject plants, neighbor plants, neighbor people, and the local ecosystem--living room, lawn, or garden--can be arranged so as to be fruitful for the season? There are real stakes in this conversation. They are about survival for the vegetation. For me, the stakes are also relatively high. When I was recovering from COVID this past spring my biggest joy was sitting by the garden with my coffee. The same could be said for the time of my back injury. The conversations between these elements is important for all our wellbeing.
So...this past year it felt like I planted a ton of stuff. The plot is small. However we did add another raised bed to the operation. That may be it for now. One thing I learned was that the whole mess of beds and pots is awkwardly situated for the goal of maximized yield. The elbow of the house gets spotty light, which is good for some things but not others. Also, it has been churned up a couple of times to get to various infrastructure items that we unwittingly planted over. Finally, it is in a tight spot on the narrow driveway. The cars are single file so sometimes one's bumper makes contact with the outermost raised bed while backing over the lawn with the front car in line.
Still, I don't think I will move it. It just will be the size it is for the time being. The original site selection was simply because most of the parsonage is exposed to the view of passersby. The garden corner is literally the only spot with any privacy, which makes it a nicer place to sit. Also, gardens are ugly--or can be deemed ugly--sometimes and I didn't need neighbors calling the church to complain. Yes...that is a thing.
Anyway, I planted things and some did well. The potatoes were a successful early experiment. I planted reds, which were excellent and a variety of "Irish" potatoes that were healthy at first but ended scabby. I will probably plant reds in bags next year. Our pepper situation was ridiculous in a good way. Jedi and Padron--grown from seed--made room for Shishito, Purple Bells, Italian Cherries, and Cubanelles, some of which were planted in the potato bed after those were harvested. They all loved the heat of the Global Warming Summer and kept on giving until the cold set in. Herbs like basil, chives, thyme, Greek Oregano, lavender (new plant to replace a prolific old one) and rosemary (same) anchored the herb bed and made good meals better. Salad greens--mostly arugula--were harvested in their "baby" phase and used to spice up older greens from the farm my sons work at.
The flowers--mostly in pots surrounding the beds--were much appreciated by me this year. My favorites were the Globe Thistle--a tribute to our Scotland trip--and the abundant dahlias. It was full 1950's for a while with massive blooms lending their color to the brown drought-stricken landscape. I have actually made an attempt to dry the tubers and use them next year. I fully expect failure but it would be fun...and none of the dahlia varieties I grew this year were rare.
Let's not breeze by the failures. Yellow squash and cukes stood no real chance. We had watering issues and blight. They suffered from our trip to Scotland. The tomatoes were prolific...and immediately eaten on the vine by a rabbit and a chipmunk family before we ever got to use most of them. We lost ton of herbs and strawberries to them as well. We had pointless stevia plant.
Finally, that rhubarb now 3 years old continues to not thrive. Alas! What can you do?
Well....you can plan for next year, right? After Christmas Day we took a field trip over to the greenhouses at the New England Botanic Gardens at Tower Hill. This was inspirational. I took lots of boring pictures of healthy houseplants and novelty vegetables. I am looking forward to going back there an learning more as time allows.
Also, as I have mentioned earlier, I have been doing some reading. Celia Thaxter's book--that I mentioned in a previous post--is rarely shelved. My Christmas gift to myself also included some intriguing titles. I am almost through "The Philosophy of Gardening" edited by Blanka Stoltz and originally written in German. This collection of essays is deeply wonky and has given me a good sense of the state of the garden movement in Europe as well as some ideas for when I have more space.
I have also cracked into two books by Frances Tophill. One has practical advice that I have already put to use in my quest to save my ginger plant. The other is about planning out a garden for the first time. Again, I don't have the space now, but maybe someday. There are a couple of others as well that I have consulted and will consult again.
Now we are reaching 2023 futures planning. In addition to potatoes and peppers again, I hope to plant some weird things that I cannot get at the store or from the aforementioned farm my sons work at. The space I have does not lead to self-sufficiency really, just life-improvement. I am well into the planning stages and am considering seeds. Our neighbors next door--who are apparently fine with gardens--gave us some zucchini. I actually made a salad from them that I liked. Maybe, just maybe, one plant...
There will be flowers, too. Ever since the plague I have valued the aesthetic elements of the garden. It is a somewhat wild spot in the midst of the manicured lawns and the pavement that surround us. I have had a lot of coffee out there and written a ton of sermons. May it continue to be inspirational. We could all use an inspiring year.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.