For me, every year there’s a moment in May when the garden is suddenly just too much. All the irrigation has to be troubleshot and turned on after winter. All the weeds are as high as an elephant’s eye. All the winter crops suddenly bolt so all the vegetable beds have to be turned over and planted for summer. All the spring blooming ornamentals need deadheading, while the cool season annuals, like forget-me-nots, are already finished and need to be composted. Yikes!
It only lasts for a minute, and then everything starts to fall into place for a new season. And May is also a time of great rewards. Several special plants at GFE bloomed for the first time after three years in the ground (a Beschorneria yuccoides, and a Carpenteria californica for you plant geeks out there). The harvest box started to have more variety after the winter of kale, Swiss chard, and more kale. Our artichokes, now mature, have been producing like gang-busters this spring. Our college interns had to study for exams, and talked about how much they would miss the garden when the semester was over, but also about how much they learned. (We grow much more than plants at Garden for the Environment. We grow gardeners!)
For me, May is also a time of reflection. At the height of the madness, ten days out from the last rain and four gardens worth of irrigation to check and start, I worked thirteen out of fourteen days, either in my own or someone else’s garden. Granted, I’m a gardening fool, but what’s it all for? (Especially since plenty of rain later in the month made it possible to turn all the irrigation off again!) Why do I put myself through all the madness of the season year after year?
There’s something about gardening that makes all the work worthwhile. In a city full of hard edges and congestion, in a world where action increasingly takes place on a flat screen, the garden offers a three-dimensional experience. Actually, it’s four-dimensional, because timing, seasons, and weather are so important. The young fig tree may leaf out, but if gophers eat its roots, it will die. No one can reset it, reboot it, or give it another life like a video game. You have to wait until next year when the season is right for planting again.
At the same time, nothing is too serious in gardening. The dead tree’s leaves can be stripped into the compost pile; its trunk can become part of a homemade retaining wall. Everything decomposes and returns as fertility.
There is humor and humility in the right-sizedness of gardening. The task is just the right size for a person, not too big, like healing a polarized nation, or too small, like much cultural trivia. It is no coincidence that humor and humility share the same linguistic root as human. All these words come from humus - soil.
Gardening is real in a way many things aren’t. Either the rose blooms - or it doesn’t. Either the lettuce tastes good - or not. Gardening roots us in time and place and into our own hearts and hands. We get to use all of ourselves; our imaginations, our observation, our intelligence, our physical strength, our teamwork, all play their role in gardening.
If you have a garden, you are one of the lucky ones. If you don’t, there is a community or school garden project looking for your help as a volunteer. You can adopt a garden, and before you know it, you will be waking up on volunteer days and jumping out of bed, wondering if your carrot seedlings came up, and if the poppies bloomed.
Try it! Your head, heart, and hands will thank you.