Late last summer, out on a power-walk, I passed the most charming yard. Bounded by fruit trees, branches loaded with apples and pears, there were rows of raspberry brambles and sunflowers, patches of bright dahlias, pole bean tipis, and tomato plants, staked to support their bright red fruit. Morning glories climbed everywhere. I just stopped and stared. Amidst it all was a craggy birdhouse, with bluebirds perched on top. It was so beautiful; a perfect mix of practical gardening and floral whimsy. A few weeks later, as my husband and I walked by this same yard, we hatched a plan to begin our own garden.
Now that we are committed, I am beginning to wonder what I have gotten myself into. Last fall, we began by cordoning off a section of yard and employing the “lasagna gardening” approach, which involved laying cardboard over the grass, then layering grass clippings, leaves, and compost on top. While it looked messy at first, it eventually settled down into something that actually resembled a garden plot. I transplanted perennial flowers to form a border, planted blueberry bushes, raspberry canes, and rhubarb, and made a list of what to plant the following spring.
Having grown up in a condo, I know precious little about gardening, but I spent the winter reading up on it. (Truth be told, it was more like pouring through the beautiful photos in coffee table-style gardening books).
As the snow melted, I began to see splotches of green in the garden bed. Upon investigation, I found clutches of bright green shoots coming up through the lasagna layers. “What’s that?!” I wondered. I didn’t remember planting any spring bulbs in haphazard clumps in the garden bed, but was afraid to pull them up, just in case I had planted them. (Gardening lesson one: Write down where and what you planted.) As they grew, it became obvious they were neither crocus, nor daffodil; not tulip, nor daylily, and when I pulled them up, the clumps of rooted seeds made it clear that they had sprouted from something planted by squirrels or chipmunks, not me.
Indoors, I was also gardening. When the hardware stores first put up their seed displays this spring, I was ecstatic. I began my seeds in tiny peat pots in front of a sunny window, using discarded deli trays as makeshift greenhouses. My little seeds sprouted, and I reveled in noting their progress each day. Eventually, they got so tall I had to take the lids off of the deli trays, and that is when disaster struck.
Crumbles of potting soil on the floor tipped me off that something had gone awry. Upon closer investigation, I found that half of my bean, Brussels sprout, sunflower, morning glory, and squash shoots had been gnawed off at the stem. Nearby, the cat sat innocently watching, as I inspected the damage. (Gardening lesson two: Protect your plants from wildlife, especially the wildlife that resides in the house.) Hoping for a miracle, I covered the trays with upside-down laundry baskets, and set them back by the sunny window. Only time will tell if they can make a come back.
As with most things, gardening seemed easier when I was reading about it—compared to actually doing it. I suspect there will be some do-overs, especially if the cat figures out how to get under the laundry baskets. But what I love about this endeavor, thus far, is that childlike joy of seeing the first sprout pop up, as if by magic. It seemed a miracle to me, back in kindergarten, when we sprouted a flower seed in a Dixie cup to give to our moms for Mother’s Day. And, I’m happy to say, the magic is still there.
Written by: Jennifer Reynolds is West Michigan Woman magazine’s staff writer. Gardening will be her work in progress. The cat may be her downfall.