Vermonters talk about six seasons: 1) leaf season (a couple of blessed weeks in the Fall); 2) stick season (the rest of the Fall); 3) winter (at least five months of it); 4) mud season (also, sugaring season); 5) bug season; and 6) construction season (optimists call this “summer”).
This is the rhythm of life in Vermont. When I moved south, I was surprised to experience Spring for the first time. I cannot overstate how astonished I was by the experience. I had heard legends of this season, but the South really makes a show of it. Then it’s five months of blistering hot summer, and I forget spring ever happened as I am constantly sweaty and my hair is an untamable heap of frizz. I digress….
The long-term unfolding of the seasons marks the progress of each year. I’ve long found pleasure in planting seeds, mostly flower seeds, and seeing what they’ll do. Once, I put Morning Glories in my mother’s well-manicured flowerbeds. By September, they had climbed all over everything in a tangled web of vines. Oops… The same year, I planted sunflowers in her beds, not realizing I picked the kind that grows over ten feet. Another oops.
This is part of the fun of gardening. Every year, I learn lessons the hard way. Did you know birds are voracious when they’re nesting, and sunflower sprouts are among their favorite treats? I replanted my sunflowers three times the year I learned that lesson. And did you know that in Virginia’s long, luxurious growing season, tomato plants can grow over tent feet and require elaborate staking systems, lest the weight of the fruits snap the vines? Yup, I learned that one the hard way, too. That’s the year that my mother told me about pruning my tomato plants. Apparently it’s possible to keep them in check. I’m going to try that this year. But I’ve still got my ten-foot steel stakes on standby just in case things get out of hand.
I had a thirteen-foot sunflower that year, too.
Everything about a Giant Sunflower is giant. The leaves on the 13-footers were over a foot across.
I was also successful with bulbs for the first time that year. Virginia is particularly great for growing Dahlias. These deep red babies with white-tipped petals were my favorite.
This is why I garden. I am no expert gardener. In fact, my knowledge is really limited. But I love to participate in the rhythms of the natural world. I enjoy being part of the long-term unfolding of the growing season, from seed to flower or fruit or vegetable. While I understand, scientifically, how it happens, I can never quite fathom that a dry little seed can produce a huge plant bursting with fruits or vegetables not only fit for eating, but more tasty than anything sold in a supermarket. I like to join in that process, from seed to table. I like to dig into the earth and be a part of its cycles—cycles that would go on without me, without any of us, and so feel eternal in a way that resists the compulsive control of modernity (Monsanto, be damned).
It is as if I can catch a glimpse of the wonders of the universe just by digging, planting, watering, pruning, weeding, and hoping. It’s all so delightfully mundane, but when I eat a tomato straight off the vine, and it tastes like summer and sunshine, I’m in heaven.
Which reminds me, I need to go prune my tomatoes.