Today we had some sun and warmth; May is variable in New England and this week was chilly, so it was nice to see the sun. I wandered out to the garden with a hand trowel and a few zucchini plants I bought at our friends’ farmstand up in Stowe, dug out some compost from the bottom of the pile to mix into the garden bed, and popped them in to the soil. Hallelujah.
There’s something really calming about gardening. If you let yourself just be present for it, it has a therapeutic affect. Since starting a new job last June I’ve been pretty fully immersed. I work long days– from home, luckily — and thoughts about work creep into the hours I’m not working. But when I’m in the garden the smell of the soil and fragrant flowers, the sound of the birds and the breeze in the leaves of trees, and the feeling of my hands in the dirt has a way of holding my full attention.
Today it was just me and my son Tristan at home. He has a summer class this evening (calculus, which, it turns out, is better to take when you don’t have other classes competing for your attention and energy) and when he spotted the radishes I brought in he selected the largest one and popped it into his mouth. When he was young I grew radishes on a tiny plot we had at an apartment we were renting– two squares of the garden in the backyard came with the Cambridge apartment. It had raised beds and walkways made of brick. Tristan would pull the radishes I grew out of the ground and eat them before I could wash them. It was pretty great.
So now, about 18 years later he’s still eating the radish I grow. There’s something very cool about that.
A couple of weeks ago the radish and lettuce looked like this …
With so little in the world to feel sure about, the idea that I can grow radishes year after year gives a certain comfort. I think it’s comforting to Tristan, too.
Tis the season for … seeds arriving! Little square packages full of potential.
I have friends who are embarking on new culinary herb gardens this year. New gardeners, new gardens. Woo!!!
If you are starting an herb garden, you may be planning to start your seeds outside and buy some plants — this is a tried and true method that works great. However, a couple of my friends have seeds and want to start them indoors. Our last frost date in Massachusetts is just too far away! So before I move onto a few tips for starting seedlings, one word about what herbs need: sunlight, well-drained soil and water. So if you are planning to put your green babies in the ground bear that in mind.
Onto seed starting: generally, you’ll want to start your seeds about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. If you don’t know what that is, google “last frost date” and your zip code. With respect to gear, you can buy seed starting kits and there are mountains of types of pots and gadgets. What you need, at a minimum:
a south facing/sunny window,
pots/a tray of small pots
good potting soil or seed starting mixture. Note on this: seed starting mixture isn’t high on nutrients. This is fine for the first few weeks, but I recommend a more nutrient-rich potting soil or organic plant food for the plants once they get going.
Very helpful to have:
I have found a warming mat to be invaluable for seed germination; if your space is colder than 65 degrees F you’ll want one.
a grow lamp for long, grey days and even weeks in the spring,
a spray bottle is a great way to water–seedlings are delicate!
A seed starting kit with humidity dome to keep seeds moist.
General procedure for starting seeds (any kind):
Fill your pots/tray with seed starting mix or potting soil.
Lightly cover seeds
Lightly water. Misting seeds is a great way to moisten them without overwatering. Lightly watering is fine, too, though.
Cover the pots with a plastic dome or plastic wrap to keep them moist.
Store in a warm, sunny spot. Germination generally takes 2-4 weeks but can happen within 5 days, depending on which plant you are watching and waiting on.
Pause to enjoy the feeling you have when the little green heads of your seedlings emerge.
Once seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep little plants in direct sunlight
You can transplant once they are 3-6 inches tall, in a sunny spot — they prefer 6-8 hours of sunlight!
Some other notes I’ve collected on a few herbs with particular tastes:
For oregano: no need to cover seeds with soil. Mist them and cover the container with plastic and place in a sunny window. They should germinate in a week or so. If you are using a seed starting kit with a humidity dome this should do the trick in place of plastic. Oregano is a nice companion plant for beans and broccoli, because it helps fend off pests that like those vegetables.
For basil: Basil doesn’t like the cold; when it is exposed to temps below 50 degrees F or is sprayed with cold water it can develop spots. So keep the water room temperature when watering basil!
Most seeds just needs some heat and moist soil to germinate; they don’t need the sun until they pop their little green heads up. But Thyme and lemon balm like light to germinate, so be sure to stick these in a window or under a grow lamp.
Dill, parsley, and cilantro don’t really like to be transplanted so if you can plant them where you plan to have them grow, that might be best.
We heard from the hospital this week that they are hoping to administer vaccinations for clinical care workers starting in mid-December. Huzzah. At 62 with heart disease Jon is a risk, and we worry all the time.
Still, the rest of us will wait and this winter will not be a festive one. Getting outside is always welcome, but there’s not much that’s green or blooming to see. The sun’s day is shorter and shorter … it’s definitely time to look for reasons to be cheerful, to find some surrogates for sun and company.
So, here’s one: little green babies. I love them.
In this case, jade babies. I bought a $3.00 tiny jade last year at Weston Nurseries. They had a table of tiny succulents that were no doubt intended for people wanting to create a little garden of succulents in a container. But this little plant caught my eye and I popped it into my cart. No other succulents, no container.
It became tall and leggy, gained no width, and was bending way over toward the window, top heavy and gimpy. So I snipped it, and snipped it again, nestling the cut stems into potting soil, and popped them into a window. I wasn’t sure what would happen but the plant definitely needed a haircut so why not give it a try? I watered them weekly (more or less) and this is the result.
Whenever I pass by them my eye catches the light, fresh new green of these little leaves, it’s a little having low maintenance kittens. So cute!
You can do this with leaves, too. If a jade sheds leaves you can lay them in the soil and water them. It takes a while but they root, and make sweet little plants.
They remind me that a little bit of care can go a long way, and a small thing can bring some happiness and pleasure. Even during the darkest days of a pandemic.
When we moved into this farm it wasn’t with any dreams of reviving or farming the place. The truth is that this farm was already fully a version of it’s best self. The family before us had lovingly restored it and it was a working horse farm when we bought it.
Instead, we chose the property for what it would offer us–an opportunity to live in a house so thoroughly infused with grace, charm, and history, that it seemed nearly impossible to avoid living a charmed life within it’s old walls.
I’ve always had gardens, and installing them here was a labor of love–to be clear– love for myself. Installing a garden is really more an act of inspiration than construction for me, and trying to feel my way through creating a layout that would harmonize with this place’s energy has been a process.
I sought advice for the kitchen garden layout from Enchanted Gardens – a wonderful garden designer in Holliston– because I wanted something traditional and found myself hesitating to move established plants. The existing locataires–evergreens, mostly– had deep, firm roots and projected a sense of belonging that it was hard for me to get past. In the end, I changed little and am working around much of what was here.
That process made space in my mind to connect with the plants that were here and that I added. Their energy has a sentience that it isn’t hard to perceive once you start spending time around them. Most (not all) of them are good company; they have the ability to calm and encourage clarity. There are a few – nettle, for instance, that are less friendly. But generally, flowers and herbs are easy to connect with and have a quality of soothing that I imagine attracts many people to gardening.
Being among plants is an antidote to over-activated nerves, which seem to be ubiquitous in our modern environment and online-connected style of living. I’ve found myself gardening more and more over the years, allowing my time with favorite plants to encourage my intuition and beat back the stress of daily life.
So aside from nurturing the body with fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers, being in the garden nurtures the mind and the emotional body, making way for inspiration and a sense of calm.
Why not plan a small project for the spring? A small garden – it could even be a container garden. The benefits and the beauty of being among and caring for live plants make the investment well worth it.
The early snow storm we had before Halloween was the end of the zinnia, the portulaca and other annual flowers, and remaining peppers, lettuce and radish. The montauk daisy’s glorious spray of blooms – now wilted, browned, bruised. On that morning I left the house to substitute at the local middle school, imaging a dusting or perhaps an inch of snow. But the snow fell and fell, making a 4-inch thick blanket on everything.
I returned to a garden on its way to winter dormancy.
Happily, I had already cut most of the herbs I wanted to save for winter before the snow came.
There’s more to this than having herbs to cook with and make tea with. For me, bringing my friends in and enjoying them after they’ve gone underground is a joy and a comfort. There’s brightening peppermint tea from my cheeky, robust plants that only weeks ago were covered with bumblebees. And velvety, sun-loving oregano that had grown large enough to divide. Like gifts left by visiting friends.
The snow has receded for now, leaving auburn trees and sending flowering perennials into hibernation. Seeing them die back brings up a hopeful tug of anticipation for next year. Bittersweet hangs on some of my trees – a glorious murderer; beautiful, and choking the trees it hangs on. I resolve to cut some to bring indoors for decoration.
The last of the vegetable plants were cut and thrown into the compost last week. Hardier perennials, now mulched in, reach faded leaves toward gray skies.