We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbor and our work farewell,
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky:
The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God.
-John Keble, from The Christian Year: Morning, 1827
I still feel as though my new garden belongs to someone else. It has some lovely elements and I’m awfully thankful that I was able to accomplish it, but the circumstances surrounding its creation were not ideal for creating the space I really wanted. Just starting out on my lonesome own, in my shaken-up existence without my husband, I knew that I did not like the old arrangement — that is, the swimming pool — that was obviously not Me, because it had never been. How to get what I did want, given the limits of my suburban lot and of my financial means, and most importantly, my mental wherewithal that had been reduced to Where?
My creative self was a room all in disarray from a crazy person rummaging around trying to find something. The cupboards doors left hanging open and random items spilling out or fallen on the floor: Oh, here is a piece of orange cloth…yes, that’s right, I like the color orange… and there is one of Pearl’s plums that are so yummy… get me a couple of those trees.
From a place of more understanding six months later I can say: I wanted to be plopped down into the gardens of an old Mediterranean villa where no plants were younger than ten years, and at least two full-time and expert gardeners and groundskeepers were always on hand to do the work, leaving me at leisure to walk or sit in the garden, to pray and read and watch the birds.
It helps to shine this light on the amusing and fantastical nature of my desires so that I can laugh at them and get to work on what is really here. One of the real tasks was planting the strawberry barrels. This was an idea that Landscape Lady found in a magazine and gave me the instructions for; I would never have conceived it myself, but it was an okay idea. It has been one of the few projects that I’ve completed almost entirely on my own, doggedly.
I shopped at several stores before choosing my barrels, and brought them home and sat them in the driveway with all the other junk and clutter that overflowed the demolition/construction area. Then began the string of dirt-moving episodes:
1) Reserve an appropriate portion of the dirt designated for the general landscaping by shoveling it into the barrels.
2) After several weeks, decide on a color to paint the barrels and the playhouse, and
3) Take all the dirt out of the barrels and put it on a tarp while I spray paint them on the dead lawn.
4) Until they get holes drilled, I don’t want to put the dirt back in, so I set them in the back yard to wait, and pull the tarp around the dirt in the driveway so the rain doesn’t soak it.
5) After two sons-in-law drill the holes on Thanksgiving weekend, I move the barrels to their spot by the playhouse and drag the tarp back there and replace the dirt — not before it dawns on me that the holes all around the sides for the strawberries to grow out of will be holes that the dirt will also flow out of. What? I look back at the article and see that it calls for non-soil planting mix. Too late for that, so I put some newsprint over the holes inside before I shovel the dirt in. Wait for February when bare-root plants are available.
6) Landscape Lady says that the soil for the drought-tolerant ornamentals is not rich enough for the strawberries, so before I plant I must dig in some compost. I put that on my shopping list.
7) February comes, and the bare-root plants are bought, but the nursery is out of the compost, so I shop at another store to get it. The bale is too heavy for me to lift into my cart, so I get help with that, but after I check out no one answers the call to help me, so I manage to tip it into my Subaru and then out again at home into my garden cart and into the back yard next to the barrels. Whew.
8) By this time I have read several articles about strawberries and barrels and I realize that I should have tackled this whole project differently (though if I had had that much sense back then, I would have said No to the whole thing). I need to take all the dirt out again and mix in the compost, and then add just enough back to come up to the level of the bottom row of holes, lay the plants on top of that with their bare roots extending toward the center like hair on a pillow, cover them up with enough dirt to reach the next level of planting holes, and so forth.
9) The old paper blocking the holes has become mulch. I decide as I’m completing the project that I should have bought some peat moss to tuck in around the root crowns to keep the dirt from escaping, but now I’m in the middle of it, and just cut some new pieces of newsprint to go around the plants. I will get some peat moss later and tuck it in after the fact.
Part of the reason this was not as fun as I normally find gardening to be is that it is too contrived. Non-soil planting mix? Trying to defy gravity? But I did it, on behalf of that strange woman who was presented with this idea back in September and said, “Why not?” The woman I am would just throw some California poppy seeds around the play house and let them bloom where they will for the children to pick.
A few days later, rain has soaked the barrels and we’ll probably see more leaves poking out soon. The weather will cool again, but the temperature won’t drop to January levels, and in a few months there will be fruit hanging out of the holes. If the grandchildren aren’t around to pick strawberries, I’ll put out a sign for the blue jays to help themselves.
Years ago Kate gave to one or both of us this rain gauge, which I have started using again in the new garden. In 24 hours we got more than an inch. Today it was raining steadily in the morning, and I wished I could stay home and read, but I needed to run some errands, so I went out in my boots with my collapsed umbrella sticking out of my purse.
I never used the umbrella. It was one of those “scattered thundershowers” kind of days, where it’s pouring for three or four minutes, then the clouds run off to the edges of the sky and the blue heavens open up briefly. When I got in the car to drive to the next store the rain would pitter-patter on my windshield, only until I turned off the engine in the parking lot. By this gift I was assured of breathing the cleanest and most invigorating air, and I was so glad that I hadn’t missed it all sitting indoors.
The reason for my errands was to buy ingredients to make a dinner meal that I later took to a semi-“shut-in” from church. When I delivered the food she welcomed me to stay and talk for a while, which I was eager to do because she is a widow, who just mentioned her late husband to me at church on Sunday; I wanted to hear her story. Though she’s been without him a lot longer than I have been missing mine, she still lives with the difficulty of acceptance, and part of her “can’t believe” that her other half gone, though she knows very well where he is buried.
Yesterday was a good day, too. Before it started to rain my neighbor brought his twin boys and a third boy down to help stack my new delivery of firewood. With five of us working, it took all of twenty joyful minutes to deal with half a cord of oak logs, including the cleanup. Finally, all of the extra wood, buckets, leftover base rock, scraps of this and that, are gone from the driveway, because the new gravel utility yard is done, where I intended all along to put back the last remaining stuff I want to keep.
After the boys finished up, I kept working for another hour or more, though the wind was coming up and the air was chilling, alerting me to the storm coming in. I spent some time furnishing and puttering in my new greenhouse. Here was another thing that is hard to fully believe: Me, owner of a greenhouse.
I lugged eight cinder blocks from the driveway and made two stacks with them, and found a piece of plywood to put on top to make a potting bench. Then I tidied up. There was mud on the floor, and dead leaves from the plants that got frosted before I moved them inside. I found an old tub to keep under my potting bench to put organic matter in, when I am trimming things.
A few days ago when I was waiting for my oil to be changed I leafed through the latest Seed Savers’ Exchange catalog and my vagueness morphed into excitement about what I might plant in my new raised beds. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the proper soil for carrots. I drooled over the beets, and imagined Painted Lady beans climbing my trellis. It won’t be long before I can start some of these things right in the rich soil in my beautiful boxes. Other more tender plants like tomatoes and squash I can start in the greenhouse if I want. Or, if I don’t want, I may putter less productively.
I do feel overcome, at least once a day, with all the things I need to do and want to do, the unfinished projects and the new projects that would sound inviting, if it weren’t for all the undone things weighing on me. I’m thankful that I have enough strength and energy to do one task at a time, and while I’m doing it I don’t think about the other work. Here is a good place to wrap up with a pertinent quote from John Ruskin, which seems to explain some of my happiness:
“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.”
Sandra posted a stimulating group of quotes today for her Sabbath Keeping, with the theme of Work. I usually have to-do lists in many categories stacked on my desk, with some of the entries also boxed in on weekly calendars, so Work is an entity, an idea, a reality that I spend a lot of time on — I’m human, after all, made in the image of God, and in John 5:17, “… Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
I have a pretty good collection of quotes on this subject myself, and one anonymous maxim from The Salt Cellar collection of Charles Spurgeon is a favorite: “They never wrought a good day’s work who went grumbling about it.”
I also love this one by Teresa of Avila: “It is only mercenaries who expect to be paid by the day.” Those two might just about sum up, my apophatic theology of work.
But today I was comforted by Victor Hugo’s reminder that Sandra passed on:
A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.
There is visible labor and there is invisible labor. –Victor Hugo
Reading all these quotes about work and thinking about many things, I was fortified by drinking a new herbal tea that Soldier gave me a while back. It is my latest favorite. I made a potful to keep me going for a couple of hours of my favorite kind of work.