Saturday, July 31, 2010

First Lessons in Gardening -- #1 "To garden"

When you decide to garden—funny verb—you commit to a course of discrimination. Gardening is the logical action following on the not-entirely rational decision that some plants must stay and some plants will not be tolerated. And you will become, if not the god who decides what lives, at least that god’s enforcer in Eden.

Many women would not feel burdened by this responsibility. They accepted it long ago, when they took charge of the kitchen and had to eradicate the invading ants and roaches—or the minuscule crumbs and germs that accumulated into seams of black crud if neglected.

But I had to feel my way toward that responsibility in the garden, in much the same way that my sister had to do so in the kitchen. She argued with our mother for years, maybe decades, about the relative importance of keeping the crud at bay, and about what Terrible Things would happen if she did not.

Much of what we know we must do in the world comes from first-hand experience of those Terrible Things.

Similarly, I have had to try some theories of my own in the garden to learn and trust the most basic tenets of the garden: You have to decide who’s in and who’s out. And you have to enforce.

My teacher chides me: “You can’t just weed once.” Weed. The essential verb. The verb that describes the very act of discrimination. The verb which, if put into action regularly, defines the verb “to garden.” All the mulching, fertilizing, and watering in the world will not make a garden if you do not weed. I have seen this for myself. I have removed the boards that bordered my garden and watched, stunned as the grass and weeds from the grassy area marched into my choice, composted, amended, turned and raked soil and took up residence among my peaceful rows of carrots, beets, peas and chard. Worse, among my strawberries, from where it is very hard to pull them without destroying the berry plants. The borders are not just someone’s idea of drawing a line. They function. If I can get ahead of the weeds for just one minute, I will put them back.

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