It’s the middle of summer, and the garden looks like it. After stalling for two weeks in June while the skies rained almost non-stop while the yard and environs flooded, the garden has done what gardens do in July. It’s great.
It’s also a bit of a crowded, jungle-like mess. I’m learning a lot of lessons.
Gardening lesson #1: Zucchini. Wow. The overachievers of the home garden. Our zucchini plants are enormous. They’re threatening to take over the whole planting bed. Their neighbors, the summer squash, are having trouble keeping up. Their other neighbors, the cucumbers, are vying for supremacy. They are losing to the zucchini, but they’re trying.
This leads me to gardening lesson #2: Cucumbers are some wild and crazy guys. After replacing them twice in the spring after they failed to thrive, they’re now extremely happy. They’re sending out vines and runners all over the place. This was becoming a mess as the cucumbers grabbed onto the zucchinis and everyone got a little too snuggly in the garden. We decided to trellis the cucumbers. This is something we’ll do from day 1 next year. An afterthought trellis isn’t the easiest thing to insert into a garden.
We came up with a DIY trellis that wouldn’t get in the way of the zucchini but would get the cucumbers growing up instead of, well, everywhere else. We used a tri-fold tomato cage and twine. We coaxed the cucumber vines up the trellis. They were pretty unhappy about it at first, but I think they’ve forgiven us. They seem to be taking to their new vertical situation. We’ll see how it goes.
Seeing the garden as an overcrowded jungle leads to gardening lesson #3: the garden in July looks more or less like a scene from Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I can practically see the diminutive children climbing around in there.
Gardening lesson #4 is related, but a little more philosophical: living in the moment, appreciating the process. I’m finding that gardening isn’t so much about the final product–even if growing food is the idea, and I’m awfully excited when something edible and delicious emerges from our gaggle of plants. Gardening is really about the process, the series of events and small moments that mark the growth from seed to table. I have to live in these moments, otherwise gardening might feel like a big hassle for who-knows-how-much reward.
For example, the summer squash plants are covered with pretty flowers, but they also have a really wonderful architecture if you get down under leaves and look at how the large, unwieldy plant holds itself up.
I also love the moment when a tomato suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, decides it is time to start ripening. The skin begins a gradual turn from green to red, or in the case of my yellow cherry tomatoes, a beautiful sunny gold.
So far, though, my favorite fleeting garden moment is the flower that comes just before the pea pods start to form. The delicate little flowers are really lovely. but they don’t last long. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it.
Paying attention to the sweet pea flower is about learning to slow down and appreciate the process, learning to live in the moment instead of constantly focusing on products and end results. This is an important practice for someone with a personality like mine–I’m always planning, organizing, and thinking ahead. It can be quite exhausting. Gardening becomes my counterbalance.
My grandmother would likely look at the sweet pea flower and say: “The good Lord knew what he was doing when he made the pea.” She likes to point out that the world around us is really marvelous, and even something as tiny and fleeting as the sweet pea flower is worth our notice, and worth our gratitude. She’s a smart woman. And a great gardener.