Why do we always insist on judging everything and everyone? We hear that this presidential candidate has all the momentum and that one is desperate. Jennifer Lopez and various Kardashians are hot; Jennifer Aniston and Tom Cruise are not, the so-called experts tell us. But who really decides, and what are their qualifications to make these (occasionally) important decisions?
With the possible exception of the guys who filled in for several weeks as NFL referees, small dogs that nip at your heels, and street mimes, everyone deserves a chance to be accepted for who and what they are. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
Our gardens, which can be such sources of delight, ought to be above criticism and judgment, too. Yet here I am, taking stock of what the rapidly waning gardening year has been like—and judging what was good and what was bad.
I suppose that this inclination is natural. After all, we spend so much time, and invest so much hope, in our gardens that we need to feel that it’s all justified, that we have been rewarded properly, that any shortcomings can be blamed on weather and pests and the fill-in refs. All the good things, of course, can be attributed to our spectacular talent at growing things.
The year got off to a slow start as early heat doomed spring crops like lettuce, spinach and snap peas, and my asparagus crop was kind of listless. Then I was chased out of my garden by a massive swarm of bees. So by late spring I basically abandoned any hope of growing summer crops on my plot—located on a friend’s horse farm—in favor of four improvised raised beds in the side and back yards of my house. Those beds get five hours of sun on a good day right around the solstice. Other days, maybe four hours of sun.
That’s not a formula for success; most main-season annual vegetables and flowers need at least six hours of full sun, all the books and magazines remind us constantly. Add in the fact that the beds had only about six inches of soil on top of lawn, and that the soil was of limited quality, having been provided by a local garden center. The odds that things would flourish were particularly bad.
So how in the world did my garden do so incredibly well?
I’m amazed and embarrassed to say that I don’t really know.
The beans and peppers took a little longer to produce than usual. The tomatoes, fueled no doubt by the high temperatures in June and July, were more or less on time. The lone basil plant produced like its hair was on fire. The zinnias were slow to get going and kept leaning and twisting in search of sun. But the dahlias: Dozens of flowers from four plants, and some blooms nearly dinner plate size. They’re still coming in at a rate of a couple a day, especially the big yellow ones—a cultivar known as Kelvin Floodlight. They light up the house.
They’ve been so grand that neighbors begged repeatedly for cut flowers, rang the doorbell at odd hours to ask my gardening secrets, snuck into the yard in the dead of night to dig up the tubers, nominated me to state officials for gardener of the year, sought a congressional citation to recognize my gardening prowess and secured promises from both presidential candidates that they would be photographed with me and my prized dahlias by the end of the week. I’ve been offered my own network gardening show, and several foreign billionaires have offered me huge contracts to consult with their national horticultural experts.
Okay, I got a little carried away there. But the dahlias were, and are, quite nice this year.
After my friend John moved most of his bee hives to another corner of his farm, I started returning more frequently to that plot to do triage weeding. I’m still catching up, but the garden is starting to look almost respectable again. The raspberry plants had a second consecutive year of basically no berries, with blight being the culprit. But I had a couple dozen fat blackberries from four new bushes.
And a funny thing happened in a remote corner: Two “volunteer” tomato plants—offspring of fruits that rotted last year—have produced dozens of full-size heirloom tomatoes. They show no sign of stopping.
In a gamble, I planted fall lettuce and spinach twice: Once about the third week of August, and again in early September. I knew that the success for the first planting was dependent on unusually cool temperatures in late August and early September. That did not happen. But the first seeds have done fabulously anyway. The plants are approaching their peak now, and they are sweet and tender—at least as good as the best spring plantings. I’ve never had good fall salad greens beforfe. Never.
Now, one thing that might be considered tangential to gardening needs mentioning: At home, my lawn has been devoured by crabgrass. I mean swallowed whole.
I have never seen anything like it. My efforts to control the crabgrass have been as determined as ever, but the lawn has been a colossal mess all summer. The neighbors on both sides—and, for the record, I love them dearly—don’t treat their lawns for dandelions, crabgrass or anything else. And the bad stuff keeps invading. (Did you know that a single crabgrass plant can produce 15,000 seeds? I believe it.)
As I tally up the scorecard on the 2012 gardening season, I see lots of the good (tomatoes and dahlias and fall crops), the bad (peas and zinnias), and the ugly (losing my summer crops to a vicious cloud of bees). I’d like to hear how you rate your efforts this year. What worked? What didn’t?
But the process of evaluating what was good and what was not so good this year still troubles me. Who am I to judge what was good and what was bad? Who is anyone to judge?
Better yet: Why can’t we just accept what is?
Our gardens are among our most valued possessions, are among our favorite places. Sure, some things will stun us with their “success.” Others will sadden or even anger us with their “failure.” In the long run, and maybe even in the short run, however, these things tend to even out. It’s always good year for something and a bad year for something. Karma rules.
Perhaps the best reason to review what was good and what was not good in the garden is to learn—to learn what to do differently in the future, and to learn how not to apply labels such as good and bad.
So I hereby resolve to try to stop judging. To accept the good, the bad and—yes—even the ugly. In gardening, and in life. It will be an uphill struggle at times, I’m sure. Maybe a hopeless one. But I’m going to try.
Anybody with me?