I do not have a green thumb. Yet, I have always kept a garden, even if it was just a small plot along the side of the house or plants in pots on terraces in Texas, Baltimore, Alexandria and now here on the deck outside the dining room at Vanaprastha.
Fresh herbs and vegetables lift my sense of taste to a level equal to the other four senses. That should be reason enough to go through all the trouble of gardening, especially if one doesn’t have access to a farm market or restaurants serving local-sourced foods. But from Charlottesville to Staunton, farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants abound. I frequent the Nelson Farmers Market in Nellysford, a mere 5 minutes from home, and purchase directly from farmers, including Saunders Brothers, Critzer Family Farm and Patti Lou at Tall Cotton Farm.
So why would I garden? I like the trouble – the feel of muscles laboring and dirt seeping through garden gloves. I love that earthy smell as much as the scent of tomato or basil, which follows when I brush by the plants. Nothing is as fresh as something picked right outside the kitchen door then added to a salad or cooked into a soup or stir fry.
My plants and I have a special relationship. I talk to them.
“How happy you look. Do you need anything? Please keep growing.”
If they’re struggling, I touch them and say, “I’m sorry, let me look at you. What’s the problem – poor soil, too little or too much sun or water, too windy, hot or cold? Maybe we’ll try a different location next year, what do you think?”
This year in addition to a veritable Scarborough Fair of herbs in pots and in the ground – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, plus dill, cilantro, oregano and a lot of mint, we decided to try square foot gardening. Some years ago, a sister-in-law gave me a book by the founder of square foot gardening Mel Bartholomew. Based on Batholomew’s ideas, Keith designed and built boxes using lumber left over from the house construction – an economy appealing to a pea-pickin’ New Englander like me.
Mountain land is not rich, mostly sandy rocks and decayed organic material, sticks and leaves. So we mixed manure and compost into the soil. Then I planted tomatoes, banana peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and cantaloupe. I’ll watch them and speak words of encouragement. If this technique works, Keith promises to build another two or three boxes next spring so I can raise greens – swiss chard and lettuce.
I might become a mountain gardener yet, with a little help from Heathcliff and Freya guarding against deer poaching our crops.