Messy Or Marvelous?

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Messy, marvelous, or both?

Chaos And Natural Order

Yesterday I was showing a young friend my new P-Patch, which is in a churchyard community garden a few blocks from my home. I always enjoy seeing people’s reaction, since my garden plot is both abundant and untrammeled. When I first saw it, back in March, it looked like bare earth. The top soil had been removed and the undersoil clearly needed some love. I layered on compost and started planting peas and patches of catmint and various kinds of oregano. I scattered seeds of sunflowers for my beans to climb up, and calendulas to bring in the pollinators. Before long, it was apparent that the previous gardener grew potatoes, as sprouts popped up here and there. And here. And there. Some I removed, but others were left in peace (who doesn’t love home grown potatoes?).

Clumps of lovage also appeared, which I pulled because one can quickly have more than enough lovage. Borage invited itself along, and I left those nearest the bed edges for the pollinators. Volunteer kale and chard were everywhere, along with parsley, feverfew, and columbines. Forget-me-nots made clouds of blue which I ripped out as soon as they got funky foliage. Raspberry canes poked up from broken bits of roots, along with a lost piece of grape vine, so I decided to let them have the summer to size up. Come fall, I’ll gather them up and build a stout cage for them at one end of the bed, but for now, they’re free to roam.

Free Range Vegetables

Among all this effortless bounty, I’ve tucked in more kinds of kale and lettuce, onion and garlic sets, peppers and way too many tomatoes. Beans now wind up the rising sunflowers and bushy basil scents the air as I weed. Strawberries run between larger plants, which share space graciously, since with amended soil, there’s enough and plenty for all. The lovely melange is full and fluffy, with an enticing variety of foliage forms and textures and colors. There’s barely a bare inch of soil without a delicate covering of thyme or creeping oregano, a feathery plume of dill or a spire of shallot.

To my eye, this intermingling echoes the natural planting patterns that delight us in open meadows. Plants gently overlap just a bit, enough to create a bubble of moisture at soil level, which promotes rapid root growth and allows soil biota to flourish. Nature doesn’t really do bare earth; even in deserts that look empty in the dry season, thousands of flowers sleep just under the surface, waiting to burst into brief and glorious bloom when the rains arrive. To my great pleasure, my young friend turned out to be a passionate devotee of permaculture. Her garden is much like mine, and she and her partner revel in the marvelous mixtures and rich relationships that arise through happenstance and the force of nature. To my fellow P-Patchers, with their tidy rows and carefully bared soil, this wild profusion looks like utter chaos (so I hear). To me, it looks like vegetable love and vegetable happiness.

A pleasing profusion can echo natural plant relationships

Blueberries And Bindweed

But what about weeds, I hear you say? If you have weeds, you don’t have enough plants. Besides, weeds can be allies as well as enemies. Years ago, a friend who is a professional gardener and a whiz of a weeder told about clearing a large blueberry patch of bindweed (aka morning glory vine). Her client was elderly and her extensive property needed more help than she was able to give any longer, so my friend went over periodically and weeded, trimmed shrubs, and generally tidied up the place. She noticed that the blueberries were half hidden under bindweed vines, which blew their white trumpet flowers triumphantly over the bushes. Patiently, strand by strand, my friend unwound the twining stems, trying to clear the bushes without knocking off the ripening berries.

It took a long, long time and while she was finally finishing up this daunting task, the older woman hobbled over to the berry patch. She leaned on her cane and looked over the newly cleared bushes for a long moment, then said quietly, “I imagine you think you’ve done me a favor.” Stunned, my friend just gaped at her. With a sad little smile, the older woman explained that the blanket of bindweed hid the ripe blueberries from rapacious flocks of birds and other critters that can strip a bush in minutes. “Ever since I learned to let the bindweed grow here, I’ve harvested nearly all my blueberries for canning and freezing, jams and pies. Now I’ll be lucky to get a handful.” Ever since I heard that story, I’ve viewed weeds a little differently.

Flag Day Musing

And Happy Flag Day! Today we had our first meeting of our new LGBTQA Club at the Senior Center, with Pride flags and buntings aflutter. Ten people had a lively debate about whether the term ‘queer’ has transitioned from slur to supportive descriptor. I can remember a time when calling someone queer was pejorative, either deliberately or casually offensive. For younger people, queer seems to be an affectionate, widely embraced term that’s used in any and every situation. Anyone under 60 or so uses ‘queer’ as the most inclusive and comfortable term for all sorts of things; queer family, queer community, queer culture. Among the ideas tossed out today were hosting Queer Bingo, an event that drew over 250 people in Kitsap County some year back. And Queer Movie Night. And Queer Family Picnics. Of course!

Last night, our Transfriending family support group had our summer gathering. While rain poured down, little kids played with the family kitty, teens and tweens hung out happily, and 20-somethings graciously mingled with parents before quietly fading to find more congenial company in each other. The parents who were newer to the experience of having offspring spring gender-bending announcements on them were pantingly eager to bond with other parents who could understand exactly what they were thinking and feeling and trying to do. Every one of the attendees was clearly reveling in the delicious feeling of normalcy; in queer communities, everyone is welcome to be whoever they are, openly and with pride. Onward, right?


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4 Responses to Messy Or Marvelous?

  1. Laurie Reese says:

    Thank you Ann for you lovely articles! Your joy for gardening brings a welcome smile to my sun weathered face 🌸

  2. Kim says:

    Gardening fear factor from this article in today’s NYTs: – wondering what your thoughts are?

  3. Martha PAGE says:

    marvellously messy…thanks for the reminder!

  4. Ann Lovejoy says:

    Hi Kim, yeah, ticks are starting to appear even here in the PNW where they’ve historically been rare. Back East, I’ve had the unpleasant experience of removing ticks from myself and from pets, and I don’t miss it (!). However, I’m still much happier gardening in my abundance and taking a shower to wash off the accumulated pollen and any passenger pests. If you do find a tick, make sure you get tested and treated for Lyme disease asap-evidently that makes a big difference. Onward, right?

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