Digging In

“Digging in.”

Dare I call this the name of my new column/blog and presume to hope that at the end of my life, my name can be added to the list of exceptional garden writers this country has had or currently has?

Garden writers from America such as Henry Mitchell, Anne Raver, Ketzel Levine; as well as some from the UK such as Monty Don, Geoff Hamilton, and Alan Titchmarsh; and others that I haven’t even read a word from yet.

I may be an amateur garden writer, but I am no novice to garden reading. And yet I’ve barely scratched the surface. Which, now that I think about it, is a wonderfully happy thing. I have lots more to read and learn from for years to come.

I hope many of my readers now have an indulgent disposition as they graciously continue reading this article. I know that many of you are excessively more trained in gardening than I but you understand that it is important to humor a young garden writer.

Many of your are often of the more stalwart and down-to-earth generation since fewer of us millenials are taking up gardening.  I hope the experienced generation feels that they can correct and coddle and feel content about helping pass on their knowledge to the generations of gardeners that are following them.

So I proceed.

Ten thousand hours is the threshold that one must cross, so they say, to become an expert in any field. If that is true, I am about a quarter of the way to gaining the “Expert Gardener Award.”

Our gardens, particularly our kitchen garden, took about 400-500 man hours to install the post-and-wattle beds. Of course, in America, it is gushed over. I should say, more specifically, in the western half of America it is gushed over and those from the east that see it proclaim it a well-laid out garden.

The pathways are too small. Have you ever read that your garden pathways should be about 3 feet wide so you can wheel a barrow down them? Ours are 3 feet wide.

No one told me that it would be nearly impossible to scoot by that wheelbarrow when it’s sitting in the pathway.

We’ll just assume that I won’t ever need to get round to the other side of the wheelbarrow when I’m working in the garden.It’s a given that I’ll only ever need to be on the handle side since I only ever need to wheel it about or dip my shovel down the tray cliff (look up “wheelbarrow anatomy”) giving me that satisfying metal-on-metal clang that dulls the point of my shovel slowly but surely.

Note to self: next time, design 5 foot paths and enjoy shoveling out of the sloped side of the wheelbarrow.

That accounts for 500 of the 2500 hours I think I can claim as I progress toward becoming an expert gardener.

I do not count the 1-2 hours a day of weeding I was required to complete every day during every summer as a kid. Maybe sometime I’ll try to tot up things I may have learned during those experiences and then I can officially count them. At the moment I still predominantly remember how glad I was when the school year started again.

Filling in the rest of the hours are:

  • Potting and repotting plants when we lived in an apartment.
  • Building my first (disastrously planned and executed) raised garden bed.
  • Breaking up clay soil compacted like cement with a mattock in order to plant a peach tree in the backyard of the first house we ever owned (I’m told that the tree is miraculously still alive).
  • Working two garden plots near (but not near enough to make it anything other than absurd that we ever took them on) the old 1920s house we lived in while my husband was getting a Masters degree.
  • Planting beans and corn and okra in the 5 foot alleyway between our house and a fence at the “Valhalla House” for which we paid $200 of yard maintenance fees (to rip out all those carefully tended vegetable plants) when we moved out of that house . . .
  • To where we are now.

(Need I say that, having lived in our current home for 2 years as of the 16th of October, 2016, we have reached some kind of a record for the most time we have ever had our own, intact, continuously cultivated garden?)

But I digress.

As I look back on the myriad of places I’ve gardened – Idaho, Tennessee, Utah, and California – I realize, with some surprise since I have bemoaned so long that I have never been able to achieve a “mature” garden before once again leaving it behind and starting anew, that the wide variety of climates that I have tended plants in has given me a wide view and a keen desire to really understand plants’ needs and preferences, and fit the right plants to the right spot. It has spurred me on to learn even more, reading what some would consider long-winded textbooks, to achieve success as I move from one area of barely familiar soil and sun to a new (and completely bewildering in some cases) garden lot.

That has been my lot, so far in life.

Maybe I’m not as amateur as I think. Starting over and over in gardening – maybe it’s like writing and re-writing an essay. It gets better and more coherent every time.

I think I’ve changed my mind – 2500 gardening hours isn’t something to wink at. Maybe I’m more in the am-pro category. Like hovering in that space between being a serious gardener and acquiring your first legitimate, full-height greenhouse with a potting bench, warming mat, and automatic spritzers.

That’s right where I’m at.

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