April’s Foolishness

The tulip’s version of the “jester hat.”

As a gardener, April has been the most challenging, frustrating and puzzling month so far this year. I have enjoyed it immensely. There’s nothing more “in the moment” and strangely invigorating than carting 164 tomato plants to safety amidst gail-force winds and snow, or protecting 260 lettuce seedlings with 16 sets of cotton sheets kindly donated by a fellow gardener.

I remain in debt and awe to the remarkable recovery witnessed in plants and the kindness of community in helping to grow food, plain and simple. Looking forward to Beltane and May’s gentle (non-freezing) breezes.

Here’s to the merry month of May!

Invasion of the Vegetables

After a hiatus of many years, garden mania has once again taken over my soul and my house. Seeds are germinating in my art room while sweet potatoes hide in our coat closet and tomato seedlings await their peat pots on the kitchen counter. These days you’ll find me wandering around with a plant mister and planning charts while checking projected night-time temps on my phone and muttering about frost-free dates in my sleep.

On gusty nights I wake up in a cold sweat wondering how my lettuce starts are faring now that they’re finally hardening off in the unheated greenhouse that tends to lose its panels in a strong wind. I’ve been known to rescue them after dark for an overnight stay in the protection of my house, much like a parent sheltering her young from the blows of life.

Nearly twenty years since my last foray into seed starts and county extension handouts, I’ve found that much has changed with the proliferation of new technology in growing lights and heating mats, but very little in terms of my anxiety and protectiveness toward my “plant” progeny.

And while garden centers and box stores will be full of perfectly potted specimens lined up in pristine rows to pop into soil when the weather finally warms up enough to shed our winter coats, the little farm where I live grows organic with an eye to the unusual and the flavorful, and strongly supports the seed companies that provide ethically obtained, preferably heirloom seeds that are untreated and unsullied by the corruption of corporate tampering.

Besides, that first taste of juicy home-grown heirloom tomato will be well worth the vegetable invasion overtaking my home.

The Downsizing Dozen: Tiny Tending

As suburbanites everywhere march along to the beating blades inside their lawnmowers and collect the stray mulch that spring downpours washed out of obsessively sculpted landscapes, I fill my two little railing planters with carefully chosen herbs I will use in my cooking, at three stories up on a tiny balcony. From this great height, my old life of lawn maintenance and yard work seems very far away, indeed.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I spent my childhood in the country on several farms and remember spring as a frantically busy season at my grandparents’ family nursery, where thousands of annuals were sold in the merry month of May alone. Fields were tilled and planted, and the family garden begun but often neglected for farming’s other pressing demands.

I’ll never forget the first garden of my very own. My daughter had been born early that spring after a difficult pregnancy on bedrest. I was finally recovered, full of energy and new life, so I dug and laid out a little plot for square-foot gardening at the corner of our rental property. I bought garden tools and poured over seed catalogs, amended the soil and put up trellises for the vine crops. By June everything I planted was up and thriving.

And then my husband landed the job of his dreams halfway across the country. By July, I had to leave my little garden behind, and start over. But I never stopped gardening. Every year at the first misstep of winter, when the soil begins to wake and earthworms stir under the robins’ watchful eyes, I feel the call. It’s in my blood, a part of my genetic duty.

And this year wasn’t any different. I’ve worked all sizes of gardens, from half an acre to containers on a patio, but this has to be my smallest space, yet. Our diet these days restricts eating large amounts of nightshades like tomatoes and peppers, which is mainly what I planted in years past. Nowadays, we use plenty of fresh herbs, and instead of ornamental flowers, I’m trying out a couple of everbearing strawberry plants with pretty pink blooms as an added garnish.

I’ve no doubt that given the chance, I will tend to a larger garden in the future. The tools I bought for that first little square-foot plot are safely stored in our garage, waiting to cultivate bigger dreams. But until then, this is enough.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, and Shifting Into Single Gear in April.

Gardener’s Lament

Somewhere between my water spigot and a
neighbor’s neglected fence, I have lost the war.
From all sides, weedy minions encroach on my best
intentions, they’ve infiltrated the deeply dug beds
of my dreams and smothered seeds that failed to
germinate my hope for a better eden. Day after endless
day, I beat back the crabby masses, insulting insects
and gluttonous gophers, haul water to parched leaves
curling out in the field, and nurse the injured nibbled by
deer and stepped on by meter readers. With the help of a
full seed moon, I long to stand vigil against raccoon thievery
and possum vandalism, but reluctantly I must retire until the
bird’s insistent reveille when I will rise to fight once again
despite my stooped back, cracked cuticles and poison ivy.

NaPoWriMo #14

I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry?

Love Poem to a Watering Can



The rose of your spout blooms
with life-giving torrents for me,
your capacity for care overflows.
Across the years, there have been
others, bright young things without
your rust or dings, but they never
last. Even when your tired handle
fell to pieces, I gladly gave up my
tender hands to a callus that fits
only you. Throughout love’s droughts,
I will carry your galvanized spirit with
me always, to the gardens of my
heart, where no hose can reach.

NaPoWriMo #7

*This (er) homage was inspired by NaPoWriMo’s Day 7 prompt and an old blog post from 2011. Today’s mission was to write a love poem to an inanimate object, and I knew immediately that it could only be for my long-time gardening companion.

I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry?

Terra Cotta


Lined up for battle
along concrete ridges
meant to entomb them
waiting for the emperor

they finally survey fields
shimmering with shards
bled by shattered brothers
broken in holy service
against weedy abandon

never suspecting that
this would be the end
exposed to their foes
of wind and water intent
on turning them back

into the clay they come from.

NaPoWriMo #2

*Over spring break my family visited a new arboretum that is landscaping the grounds of an old nursery with planting beds and greenhouse foundations resembling Pompeiian archaeological digs. Combining this view of the old ruins with a recent PBS special I watched about the Terra Cotta warriors seemed a natural alliance.

I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry?

A Touch of Frost

Ol’ Jack Frost was late this year, but that didn’t make his chilling whack any less painful. The flaking stalks of once-proud tomato plants still haunt my patio, because I’ve been too busy to shuffle the funereal procession of exhausted potting soil to our compost pile or stuff the shameful bits I didn’t harvest into a gaping paper yard bag.

Instead, I’m holed up in the kitchen chopping and spinning and preserving all the goodies that kept on coming right up until the end.

For instance, a fairly substantial beefsteak tomato crop was roasted with some garlic, coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil until cooked into submission. and whirled until it became a nice sauce for winter stews and pasta.


Tender basil, of course, was picked well before the Hunter’s full moon and the first cold, cloudless night for my favorite pesto, a simple concoction of garlic, olive oil, salt and those pricey pine nuts. The parmesan cheese is added later.


I tried something new this year with an abundance of arugula that carried on throughout the summer, much to my delight. I clipped all the leaves and ushered them into my food processor. A couple of quick spins and the green mulch was ready for an ice cube tray. Covered with a little water, and tucked in the freezer overnight, they happily popped out the following day, ready for their next voyage in some slow cooker soup when the cold breezes carry more than a little dusting of ice crystals in the morning.


These days you’ll likely catch me hovering near my refrigerator, repeatedly cracking the freezer door open for a look at the pretty rows of red and green jars, while bags of frozen herbs rustle down below, captured summer waiting for a thaw.

Jack would be so proud.


A Lazy Gardener’s Success Story

{{Yawn}} Well, that nap sure took longer than I anticipated. Like old Rip, I wake up to a yard full of leaves and a patio garden that won’t stop. This year I committed to total container growing, mostly in my dirt bags, as I like to call them.

Early in the summer, these babies shone like jewels in the potential sea of green. I tried to group them attractively, hues on a palette, rather than the dreaded single line-up.


Plant-wise, I bought a couple of tomatoes (a Brandywine slicer and Sweet 100 cherry), two broccolis, two cucumbers of the pickling persuasion, two zucchinis, one sweet banana pepper, one miniature bell pepper that I’d never seen before, and heck, I even popped in a sugar snap vine at the last minute.

In the seed department there was the usual array of lettuces like the ever-popular Black-Seeded Simpson (I like the crispness of the name), and the mandatory arugula and basil crops. And I pushed my luck with a sowing of bush beans in a large grow bag intended for garlic planting. They seemed to like it:


Don’t know about you, but the area where I live suffered from an unusually cold and wet June and July. (When are we going to stop talking about how strange the weather is every year and just admit that unusual is the new norm?) Despite identical containers and soil, my Brandywine shot up six feet into Little Shop of Horrors proportions while the cherry tomato waned like Tiny Tim. A bit of late starter, the cherry came into its own in good time, however.

DSCN6314  DSCN6313

Gardens in the ground everywhere suffered from rot and blight. But not on the patio. My biggest problems were keeping up with the thirsty tomato monster, staking leaning towers of peppers and finding the cucumbers before they became obscene, never mind that they were a mere three feet from my backdoor. I swear cucumber leaves know how to hide their goods.


Most everything flourished except for the zucchinis. It’s downright embarrassing that I didn’t have them coming out of my ears, but the darned vine borers get them just as they set fruit, every . . . single . . . year. I relished pulling off cabbage worms that feasted on my broccoli and then — you don’t want to know. The location made it easy to keep a close eye on nibbling varmints and slugs and the occasional marauding squirrel (now where DID I hide that nut???)

After a steady harvest the last few months thanks to some nifty watering spikes and stinky organic fertilizer, the vegetation is winding down on my patio farm. The tomatoes are just about done, peppers going for broke at the finish line, cucumbers finished thankfully (whew! we managed to eat all of them).

I’ve resewed some lettuce and swiss chard, and started fresh in the forlorn zucchini pot with an interplanting of nasturtium and beet greens. But let’s face it, I can’t bear to eat the flowers.


Would I do it again? You betcha. After all, nothing beats nursing that gin and tonic on a fine summer evening while you casually reach over and pluck something for dinner, never breaking a sweat. Or getting out of your chair.