When we moved to Maryland 10 years ago, our family took possession of a 1970s split-level on a huge corner lot. The previous owners had planted perennial garden borders around the house and the backyard fence. Unfortunately, no one had maintained those borders in over 10 years. The backyard strip, in particular, had deteriorated to a couple of scraggly azalea bushes and wide swaths of weeds.
One spring day, my New Jersey-born and -bred husband, who had never shown any green-thumb tendencies, went out back and planted a few zucchini seeds. During the next few months, he and I and our tiny boys watched in amazement as three zucchini plants unfurled. Their fan-shaped leaves and thick arms rose along the fence, causing quite a bit of consternation from the ornamental gardener next door. We soon began harvesting zucchini regularly (and taking loaves of homemade bread to the ornamental gardener as weekly peace offerings).
The next year, my Jersey-born and -bred husband dug up the azalea bushes and expanded the former perennial border about a foot into our yard. We planted zucchini, crookneck squash and tomatoes. The ornamental gardener moved, and we kept most of our harvest for ourselves.
The year after that, my Jersey man decided a perennial border was no longer sufficient for his green-thumb ambitions. He rented a motorized tiller and spent the month of March digging up a quarter of our backyard. We planted carrots, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, pole beans and — of course — zucchini. Neighbors on all sides of us got baskets of produce during the peak summer months.
Every year, we’ve added a few feet to our garden. It now creeps to the midpoint of our backyard and shows no signs of slowing.
What can I say? We are seduced by soil. Bedazzled by dirt. We have become captivated by the rhythms of our little plot of land and the nourishing gifts it gives us.
This is the time of year when we look out at our empty, barren backyard square and start planning. The seed catalogs have arrived! My husband sits down to his computer program and pulls up last year’s garden diagram. Here’s what we planted where, he says. How shall we rotate the seeds this year? What shall we cut out? What shall we add? Will we have enough room?
Our favorite catalog is from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, VT. We love its commitment to organic seeds and natural plant reproductive methods. We love reading the history behind many of the seeds we buy. And we appreciate the catalog’s suggestions on how to avoid pests and diseases without resorting to chemicals.
This year we want more potatoes. The All Blue (“once a novelty and now a mainstay of the potato market”) are a favorite, but we really loved last year’s Rose Finn Apple fingerlings (“keep hilled for best quality”). We need a double order of the fingerlings.
We think we’ll return to the Boothby Blonde cucumbers (“maintained for five generations by the Boothby family of Livermore, ME”) for their sweetly small size and crisply refreshing flavor. The Chioggia beets were abundant last year, but we’d like to try the Touchstone Gold (“sweet and more mild than red beets”). And Benning’s Green Tint patty-pan squash (“no formally noted virus resistance”) would be a wonderful foil for the more expected Yellow Crookneck squash and Dark Green zucchini.
“What else?” my husband asks.
Bush beans! Sugar snaps! Romaine and spinach!
Rainbow chard! Dinosaur kale! Florence fennel! And let’s not forget the heirloom peppers, tomatoes and eggplant seedlings that we buy from our local garden market to transplant every Mother’s Day.
He clicks his program and starts to frown. The plot is too small. It won’t host all that we’ve planned. We’ll have to scale down.
Perhaps. Or we could go the other way. We own a motorized tiller of our own now. And we have half a backyard left to harvest and plow.