I’m not much of a planner. Oh, I look forward with near goosebump-level intensity to the release of the gardening catalogues each January, and I pore over some of them until I’ve practically memorized them. (People are amazed that I know the latin names of most of my plants — until I tell them this knowledge came not from proper education, but from poring over the latest issues of Park Seed, Cook’s Garden, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, among others.)
But this does not equal planning. This year, I figure I had an excuse. Nothing was ordered until the last moment because, well, I did not realize I would have a garden until well into the planting season. And still I bought too many plants, especially tomatoes, which is a classic Meredith trait, one might even say definining. This fault is not too bad, or at least I tell myself it’s not. A couple of them didn’t do too well in transit, and several were given away to neighbors and family.
I still ended up with 19 plants for 2 people. And this is not like buying about 10 begonias too many, I discovered this summer, because with vegetables you’re confronted with the moral issue of waste.
If I was a canning goddess (as I do dream of becoming) and somehow magically transformed all 19 plants’ worth of tomatoes into salsa and paste and sundried gems for winter, it would still be a silly mistake to make next year, because the goal of the Victory Garden is to feed this household. That’s two people.
Two people who got very, very sick of tomatoes by September.
Most of the last batch went bad. I had nightmares about that waste of beautiful tomatoes in November, by which time a true tomato taste could not be had for love nor money. But along about late September, F. and I had developed appetite fatigue when it came to tomatoes. The sight of a cherry tomato, no matter how lovely and ripe, or even a bowl of variously-colored gems, just calling out to be photographed for a gourmet magazine, stirred no sentiment in my heart and stimulated not one saliva gland.
Compare that to May, when just the scent left behind on my fingers after brushing tomato leaves stirred a visceral longing for the first tomatoes of summer.
So this winter, I’ve resolved to plan better — and to do it now, while the scent of tomato leaf is far away, and the tomato appetite fatigue is still a fresh memory. I’m also armed with the knowledge of what not to do, and what I ought to do differently.
For instance, it’s nearly pointless planting ‘Black Beauty’ eggplant in our partly shaded plots. You will get flowers, and maybe one eggplant by fall, and the flowers are lovely. But wouldn’t that space be better devoted to things that tolerate a little shade and produce more, such as our beloved gherkins?
My sister, whose arm is pictured here during our day trip to Park Seed/Wayside Gardens’ lovely trial gardens (so worth a visit), is always organized, and just look at that diagram she carried with her! While she jotted down names of cultivars and considered her overall goal for her property, I ran around wild-eyed, oohing and ahhing and taking way too many pictures, and running to drag Mandy over to see the neatest bee or whatever.
Actually, she did plenty of oohing and aahing, too, and she dragged me over to fall in love with several finds including a darling hot pink insect on a seed pod in the grass and a frothy grass with lavender fronds. She’s just as deeply moved as I am by it all; she just remembers to take notes and have a big picture in mind, and she’d never go nuts and end up with 19 tomato plants.
I’m going to be trying to channel my sister’s spirit for this year’s kitchen garden preparation — and also taking advantage of her visit, scheduled about a week after the catalogues arrive. Perfect timing.