Garden Season Opens at Casa Clementina

On Saturday Clementine and I went to Berkeley Hort and bought our first vegetables of the season for the garden. Kohlrabi, romanesco, broccolini, and sugar snap peas. No tomatoes yet. We spent a little time starting to clean up the disaster zone that is our garden that day, but we didn’t make much of a dent. Sunday morning, however, we woke up at 7, and I think I was in the garden hauling compost around by 7:30. Later in the afternoon Chris came out and joined in. Clem was in and out all day, alternately frustrated that I was so focused on the job at hand and delighting in jumping on my back when I was precariously squatting over weeds. I didn’t go into until almost 6. My whole body hurt by noon; I don’t know what possessed me to keep going so much longer. And I wish I’d had the perspective and common sense to put on sunscreen and some gardening gloves. My face and hands were both like raw meat by the end of the day. So much for my anti-aging efforts.

Anyway, the whole thing was very satisfying, starting with the compost. I shoveled so many buckets of fresh, black, rich, moist soil out of our giant wooden bin I lost count. I’ve never “harvested” so much from there at once, but somehow it was easy to get to — I just turned the new stuff on top over on the other half of the pile, and what was below was in fantastic shape. The soil in the beds really needed it too. Composting is not particularly convenient. We used to have a bin on our counter we put kitchen scraps into, but it would get so incredibly disgustingly nasty inside that we started just using a plastic grocery bag hanging from a hook by the sink. If it got too full and sat around too long, it would drip gross brown juice on our kitchen floor (which, coincidentally or not, is painted dark brown) until someone (usually Chris) would put another bag around it, or finally take it back down to the compost heap in the back, which is a surprisingly long way, especially if you are trailing nasty brown compost juice the whole way and trying not to get it on your shoes or pants. Then you have to turn the whole mess over from time to time with a pitchfork, which is not fun for one’s back. Then loading it out and spreading it around isn’t child’s play either, but man, it made me very happy to see that layer of black soil, especially on the veggie bed, with its little greenie guys dotted tenderly across it.

With the compost heap cleared out (or at least the half of it I had the energy to get to), we then proceeded to fill it back up – completely TO THE TOP – with the carcasses of overgrown crap that had accumulated over the winter. Retaining its prime spot on my plant shit list for the third year running: helichrysum. Gorgeous plant, great colors, grows quickly, and then just KEEPS GROWING. Forever. Takes over everything around it. Cutting it back is like fighting the hydra. We had one in the back corner by the compost heap that I had cut back mercilessly the past couple of years, but this year it just needed killing, so I dove in, hacking my way spastically to the center, and half an hour later emerged with a tangled mass of ugly undergrowth the size of a brown bear, and was rewarded with the rediscovery of my three foot tall stone birdbath, which the insatiable Audrey must have subsumed two or three years ago, hoping I would just forget it had ever been there. And here’s the pathetic thing: I still want to plant another helichrysum in its spot. They are so pretty. And I tell myself: This time I will maintain control. Cut it back before it gets all nasty and leggy underneath. I’ll teach it who’s boss this time. I’m delusional.

The California garden season is long, and I can remember September when the sedum “Autumn Joy” is showing off its gorgeous pink clusters that look like candy broccoli, but in early March the snowball viburnum and some of the heuchera are clearly teacher’s pets, looking particularly bright and healthy, and raising their little suck-up hands saying “I’m so ready to bloom!” When most everything else is sad and kind of rotten back there, covered in layers of leaf and pine needle fall (and worst of all the seeds from the pittosporum which make a revolting jelly when they’re left too long), and when I’m tempted to plant over things like the Sea Holly, which I know will come back but right now are like five inconspicuous little leaves in the ground, I’m so grateful for my early bloomers. They keep me from running out to the nursery and spending a bunch of money on a bunch of plants that will just get crowded out when things really get going anyway.

I am not a very good gardener. My approach is haphazard and inconsistent. I try things out that don’t really fit the theme, I don’t really know how to take care of half the stuff I plant, and I work in random, unpredictable bursts followed by long months of neglect. In fact, I think I garden much like I blog. But I think I’ve finally learned to stop apologizing for myself. It is what it is. I enjoy it, so I do it. Thanks for visiting my blog. Let me know if you want to visit my garden!

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