Let’s admit that 2016 has been a rough year. In fact so rough that it inspired me to start this blog. When the world is full of so much anger, negativity and hurt, it drives me to the peaceful backyard world of eager little plants pushing their way to the sky. I want to spend as much time there as possible, and then I want to bring the fruits and vegetables into my happy kitchen, cooking and baking treats for everyone I know and love.
The new year is a time to make plans, and for me 2017 will revolve around my garden plan. That’s my strategy for recovering from 2016 and launching a fresh and fertile new year. This garden plan is less about charts, seeds and plant lists than it is about emotions. My plan is about how I want to spend time in my garden, and how I want it to feel when I’m there.
I’m counting on my garden to help me recover from 2016. Here’s what a healing garden plan looks like:
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While I was going through radiation, I got tired easily and needed a lot of down time. So I spent about an hour each fall afternoon just sitting on my patio, staring at the herbs growing in the pretty terra cotta pots. There were butterflies and hummingbirds. A pair of goldfinches visited my zinnias every day. Neighboring trees and shrubs peeked over the fence.
While I sat there, doing nothing, thinking nothing, my brain made space for not only rest, but fresh ideas. Some of these were garden ideas, but others were sparks of work creativity. Fresh writing projects, story pitches and collaborations burst into my head at random moments. It may be a little twisted, but I kind of enjoyed those few months of radiation.
Obviously you don’t have to have cancer to benefit from a daily break. My garden plan for 2017 includes a short daily rest period just sitting in my garden or going for a short walk in the neighborhood, spying on the alley gardens. My garden exists partly to give me the rest and creative energy that I need, and I’ll be relying on that.
Working full time, it’s easy to hole up and be hermit. I’m pretty burnt by the end of the day. Most days by about 4:30 I just want to sit on the couch with a gin and tonic.
Tempting as it is to become nonverbal and drink great gin, I like having friends. I think that reaching out and finding commonalities with others is more important now than ever. Making and maintaining friendships takes a little effort. Not just verbal effort, but actions. Garden plan actions.
This year I want to work on connecting with both friends and new acquaintances. My garden can help me with this goal because I can share extra vegetables, as do most eager gardeners. But I can also share gardening ideas back and forth (part of why I love adding to this blog every week). And I can share recipes and the food I cook from my little urban garden. More friends, more better.
Like a lot of urban gardens, mine isn’t beautiful. It’s a workhorse of a space, churning out a decent yield for its size. We’ve taken good advantage of the area. But it’s a space home to a sloppy compost bin, a bike shed, a gravel driveway, a grill, an air-conditioning unit…. You get the idea. Plus the neighbors are RIGHT THERE, in varying degrees of urban entropy and randomness.
What I want now is to make my city garden pretty. Or, prettier. I’m never going to grow ornamental shrubs or flowers for cutting. The plants I care for are there to pay me back in food. But there’s no reason why they can’t also soothe me with their peace and beauty.
Maybe the beans can climb an ornamental trellis. Or I’ll plant more working flowers (to attract pollinators or repel pests). Perhaps we can create some kind of water feature to invite trickling sounds into the backyard. I’m open to ideas!
Gardening never stops. I’ve been gardening off and on for decades, but I have so much more to learn. Fortunately, the experts are usually happy to share their hard-earned knowledge. I plan to make more field trips to talk with more of them.
I want to learn more about soils and compost, more about crop rotation and “intercropping” plants. What grows well in my area and also tastes fabulous? What plants grow well together? How can I extend my growing season?
As part of this deep dive, I’m thinking of taking classes at my nearby expert center, Lewis Ginger Botanical Garden. What I love about Lewis Ginger is that not only is it a top-ranked botanical garden, but they don’t just focus on ornamental plants. They have a large vegetable garden as well. They even have an extensive children’s garden, with kid-friendly play and plant areas.
In fact, Lewis Ginger offers a gardening certification program. It looks like about a year’s worth of classes, and I’m tempted to enroll.
Lastly, I want to explore all that my tiny urban garden can be. Where can I find more growing space? What can I put in a container to open up more garden space? In other words, what ways can growing in the city be an asset instead of a liability?
If more city dwellers gardened, we could bring back green spaces into the urban landscape. More city folks would enjoy the bright, rich taste of a fresh tomato. More kids would grow up learning a few small farm skills.
Urban gardening, urban farming and urban homesteading are a growing movement, and we are excited to help expand it. In the coming year we want to learn as much as we can and share that knowledge with fellow urbanites who appreciate amazing food.
Grow it, cook it, eat it. That’s how I plan to stay happy, healthy and sane in 2017, and beyond. Join me and we’ll all get through this year together!