Zen in the Garden

When we moved to Washington state from California, we were elated to have more land. While, by Washington standards our yard isn't large, by California standards it's practically a small farm. And we have treated it as such.

Last summer, my husband built raised beds and we dreamed of a big, beautiful garden. Instead, we got a ton of collard greens and some tomatoes with blossom rot. A very disappointing year since our expectations, based on our container gardens of the past, were high. We found out the hard way that gardening in a place where there are actual SEASONS is a lot harder than gardening in a place where it's mostly sunny and warm and your only worry is keeping everything watered.

I almost wanted to give up. But my husband wanted to give it another try, he even built more beds! Then he took himself to a talk by a local, master gardener and started planting again. We also watched a lot of Monty Don on Netflix. (Of whom, I have a little, inexplicable crush on, but that's a discussion for another day.)

I'm happy to report that we are having a better year. We are still getting more kale and collard greens than a family can eat. So much in fact that I'm bringing neighbors "bouquets" of the stuff, wrapped up in parchment paper and tied with a bow. Any recipes for either would be greatly appreciated.

Our tomatoes are still green, which worries us a bit, but we know we are in a different climate and they may take a bit longer.

But probably, our biggest haul has been from my "witches garden". The two extra beds are filled with herbs and plants that can be used in both cooking and natural remedies. I have harvested and dried tons of calendula in the hopes that I can make a beeswax salve to give as gifts for the holidays. I'm also drying sage bundles for smudge stick gifts. Of course, it's not all serious healing here, I'm whipping up weekly, flavored simple syrups to pour into tea and cocktails. So far, the best combination is Hibiscus Iced Tea with Lemon Balm Simple Syrup. Yet, an attempt at a Blackberry Jam (homemade) with Lemon Balm Simple Syrup, Gin & Tonic was a failure. Doesn't it sound good though? We may have to keep tweaking that recipe.

I usually head out into the garden in the early morning every weekend. Sometimes, I'm joined by my husband or daughter but often I am alone with the rabbits in our yard, who know me, and have agreed that, if I don't cross a certain point in the lawn, they will simply lay on the grass and watch me work. Surprisingly, except for a moment at the beginning of our gardening season, they have left our garden alone, preferring to eat our grass and the bird seed that is tossed from our feeder by our feathered friends. Knock on wood the bird seed continues to distract.

I harvest, loading it all into a flat, tray-like basket which feels very romantic, then head into the kitchen to process the herbs and vegetables. Herbs and flowers are tied up in bundles and hung from kitchen cabinet knobs and near my fireplace mantle. Drying racks, filled with flower heads, cover a part of the counter, syrups are prepared, and greens are steamed and frozen in preparation for a long winter. I feel like Caroline in Little House on the Prairie.

What I'm learning from my little garden plot is that gardening takes patience. Years of patience. Even though this year is better than last, we are taking notes for next year. Trying to remember what is working and what isn't. We are reading Monty Don's book (I told you I have a crush.) and trying to apply his monthly tasks to our garden. This year's garden looks better. Next year's will hopefully be even better. I'm guessing there will be good and bad years. It's actually quite a Buddhist practice this gardening thing.  Impermanence, acceptance, and detachment are really the Zen of gardening, aren't they? Speaking of which, have you ever read Karen Maizen Miller's book, Paradise In Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden?

How is your garden growing?


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