Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Gardener Sings

I was dressed well, having come from a party, and over at the community garden at dusk on Tuesday night. In my classy sandals and with dangle pearl drop earrings, I was filling up my watering can at the cistern and making trips back to my plot to douse my plants.

As the evening light faded, I was feeling smug and content at my work in creating a vegetable garden in an urban space. We plotters had just gathered for a potluck and shared our stories. I had met most of my plot neighbors and liked them well. This was going to be good.

Another gardener finished her watering and waved goodbye. Realizing I was going to be alone, I asked her to lock up as she left, and then I would follow right behind her.

The last drops of water trickled from my can and now it was dark.
Mosquitoes nipping at my ankles were my first clue that it was time to go. So I grabbed my keys and my sweater and headed back to my car. That's when I realized I might be in trouble. The chain was pulled tight and fastened on the other side of the gate with the combination lock. The other gardener had done just what I'd asked her to do. I was locked in.

Slightly panicked, I slapped my empty hip pockets, knowing full well, I'd left my cell phone in the car. I reached through the fence and tried to angle the combination lock so that I could see it, but darkness and aged eyes were conspiring to make me a captive. I ran to the other gate only to gaze up at the other lock, just out of reach. Back to the main gate, I tried over and over again to get the numbers to line up, but I couldn't make out the notch to see if I was within target. Desperately, I searched the perimeters of the fence for a passing friendly pedestrian. Nada. Even the neighboring park inhabitants (the ones that I feared in the first place, I might

add) had departed.

A car filled with four middle-aged men, their hairy arms perched on open windows, cruised American Graffiti style down Fenton. My saviors, I thought, I ran to the fence to beckon them. Glad that I was dressed well and not shvitzing like a shmendrek, as I usually am after working in the garden.

"Oh car full of aged men, . . .Help me," I called from behind the fence, adding a piercing yelp for emphasis on the "Help!" Wrong approach. The startled bald ones retracted their arms inside their car as it sped around the corner and out of site. Next a tattooed, thin hipster strolled by. I'm old-school. Tats symbolize nefarious ne'er-do-wells. Besides, I was going to have to reveal the secret lock combination to him and he didn't seem the secret-keeping sort. Across the intersection, I spotted a guy on a bike.

"Oh, biker guy," I called. He looked nervously over his shoulder and pedaled away. I began to realize that from behind black prison wires, even a well-dressed gardener seems threatening. A voice calling out from a darkened lot. They all feared what I feared when I asked my friend to lock me in. The mosquitoes thickened along with my worry. Would my husband realize where I was? I hadn't told him.

The story ends well. A nice jogging couple came by and released me from my cage. I profusely apologize for my stupidity. We laughed nervously and introduced ourselves. I got in my car and drove home. Jim was watching the ballgame. Would you have come looking for me in the garden, if I hadn't come home tonight? Nope, he said, I would have figured you were still at the party having fun. The Putterer

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will the Swiss Chard Like My Cucumbers?

This picture has nothing to do with this post,
but these irises are in bloom now at my fence
in my home garden.

Flash. You know you are really a chronic garden-aholic, when your first thought of the day is whether or not swiss chard is a companion to cucumbers. It was not quite 4:30 this morning when I started pondering my next move in the garden. One thought led to another, including trying to figure out if  I can get a little planting time in this evening after work and before dinner has to be on the table. And never mind, the crush of assignments piling up on my desk at work, which doesn't keep me awake anymore (yay!). I know it will be there when I get back there in the morning.

I am up with the birds again and running around on the Internets searching for the perfect plant to be BFF to my pickling cucumbers. Now, nasturtium, which I plan to pop into the soil just as the edges and around my Putter Fort and next to my neighbor in plot number 25. . . (By the way, I was coming home, waiting at the light on East West Highway next to the Fenton Street Garden. Craning my neck, I could see that the owner of 25 was in the garden. She hadn't shown up at any other time and I was anxious to meet my plot neighbors to either side. I was dressed for the office and it was raining a slow trickle and I actually considered running over there in my heels just to say hello. Plot-aholic!)

Okay, back to nasturtium and cukes. These plants work in tandem with one another. I can plant the nasturtium, as well, on the tomato side of my plot/fort. They will deter aphids and other pests and they will improve growth and flavor to both cucumbers and tomatoes. (By the way, cukes and tomatoes are NOT BFFs (that means "Best Friends Forever". So I have the two plants planted on either side of the fort, separated by my hallway path) And I want good flavor. Besides, I love the taste of nasturtium flowers in my salads. It's always a surprise to my guests when I say, "yes, you can eat that."

But the chard and the cukes are not good mates. Chard wants to be close to tomatoes and beans, not cukes. So any plans for chard have to be reconsidered. Meanwhile, I have this open space next to the cukes. What to do? My friend, Anne, suggests bush beans. I've already got pole beans planted in the back room of the fort. And frankly, I just don't really love beans all that much to have so many growing. Radishes and dill could work. But every time, I've tried to grow radishes, I pull them out of the ground to harvest and something has gone terribly wrong. They never pop out looking like anything I've paid for in the supermarket or at the farmers market. Under my soil, they twist and turn and morph themselves into a terrifying vegetable that looks like an old man's junk. Yuck, who wants that at table?

My friend, Anne, also suggested okra. I have no idea what an okra plant looks like. Oh Miss Google, would kindly show me an okra plant? Holy crap! That one grew to nine feet. Good gracious, I don't think the plot could handle a nine-foot inhabitant. Now, while I love okra and their crazy gooey mess that seeps from their delicious seed-filled pods, every pic I've just clicked on is showing something just a little too gynormous. But the okra is a very good friend to the eggplant and I have eggplant growing that are clamoring to have a buddy. I could try okra at the back fence and if they got too big, I'd just take them out.

Oh, I could do this endlessly. Time to eat breakfast. The Putterer

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Putterer's Plot is Planted

Oh my aching back. Please pass the Advil. I spent, probably, two hours up there yesterday and about three more today. I've got 12 tomatoes, five basil, six pickling cucumbers, two eggplant, 20 pole beans and one squash. And still there's some room for more. I haven't even figured out what can go in the foyer, next to the front door of my garden fort.

Now all I have left to do is plant some herbs, lay in a row of swiss chard, and maybe some bush beans in the back.

The Fenton Street Garden is full of life. I've already met a half-dozen gardeners. I love the social scene--families with little kids, young couples, old couples, master gardeners and novices. It's just a wonderful, wonderful thing. The Putterer

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Plot Thickens

The Putterer's Plot

The front door and the foyer

The Putterer preparing to putter.

Wednesday night after work, I hurried over to the home of a neighbor who had offered up some old timbers—pressure treated wood. They’d been piled up in his yard for more than seven years, he told me, so any leaching of dangerous chemicals would have already occurred. I piled a bucket, a watering can, my red radio flyer wagon, a small rake and a shovel into the car and headed slowly over to my plot (the wood hanging precariously out of the hatchback). Jim came along to help me unload (now he’s complaining of back pain, yikes!).

I had everything I needed, or so I thought. With the car unloaded and Jim gone, and oh yes, Patsy home cooking dinner (bless her) so that I could just work through the evening, it was just me, my plot, a few other gardeners and the desire to get my everything marked and ready for planting before I had to go to sleep and to work the next day.

The posts laid nicely into the shallow trenches I dug out all around the perimeter. One shorter than the other seven easily became the front foundation. Inside the plot, I laid two parallel down the middle to create my path. One more laid horizontal across the top designated the back “room.” That’s when I realized I was building a fort.
Just as when we were kids on a rainy day, we’d push the tables and chairs together and cover it all with a blanket. The compartments within the blanket complex easily morphed into our chambers and hallways. Cozy within, the play fantasies would tumble from our child minds. Here is the door, and here is my room, and over there is my brother’s lair, and my sister’s towered aerie. We’d grab nuts and apples from the kitchen, and hurry back, carrying cheese and pickle sandwiches, to host feasts for our guests in the great hall beneath the blanket. We built forts in every place we played. At my grandmother’s old farm house, we kept two competing forts—girls and boys—under the twin beds in the guest room. On fall days, we piled up leaves and made enormous walled mansions, laid out maze-like across all the yards in the neighborhood.

Inside my vegetable land fort, I traced out a narrow pathway, curving it for architectural effect, through the foyer to the front door. The large room at the back against the fence would be home to my bean tower. Maybe, I thought I could grow beans up the fence with a squash plant at their feet (dare I try corn for a three-sister’s garden?). Along the side, the left chamber would be home for my tomato friends. The right chamber, my cucumber and eggplant aerie.

A woman called from the street, “Looks nice!”

“I’m building a fort,” I yelled back, “Here is the front door,” I pointed with my shovel, “and this is the dining room and the living room.”

She walked away laughing. Crazy lady, I’m sure she was thinking.

Next, I loaded up my red wagon with the mulch chips the county had provided and dumped at the center of the garden. I used these to fill up my center path. The wagon traveled easily over the garden pathways. Back and forth I went, filling and dumping. The leaf mulch, also thoughtfully provided by the county, went into all the beds. And I grew thirsty and my back ached and my arms, covered with dirt, felt heavy at my shoulders.

But oh, so thirsty, and that was the thing I didn’t think to bring over. Water!

Nearby, my new friend Katie was planting her tomatoes in her plot, and she went out to her car and brought back little bottles of drinking water. The cistern in the garden was not yet filled or tapped and so Katie was carefully spilling the drinking water at the base of her tomatoes. I didn’t dare ask. The tomatoes would need it more than I.

I hurried to finish. At home, cool glasses of water and a hot tub to soak in would be my reward once my fort was built. The Putterer

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mobile Gardening

At 4:30 yesterday my tooth, which had just been capped in a torturous experience that involved failures from start to finish, was pounding with pain. My plan to finish my big project was foiled by a simple document transfer that couldn't be completed. And my heart just wasn't into starting anything fresh. So it seemed like a good idea to leave the office and head over to the community garden for a look-see. Traffic and walking the dog, slowed me down. But I arrived with my garden bag packed with tools and a trash bag only to find I really didn't have a clue where to start.

Hi! I called out to the others, who had all arrived with the hoes and leaf mulch and burlap bags and wheel barrows and stakes and string to mark out their plots and dig in. My bag had a trowel and clippers, some twine, all of it perfect for weeding in my garden at home. I plunked my bag down in the middle of my plot and paced up and down, picking up the dirt and examining it, to look expert and gardener-like. I considered leaving to go get more stuff, but the time I had before Jim was due to arrive at the Metro station, made that idea a fool's errand. So then I wandered around to my plot neighbors. Hi, I tried again. That worked. Pretty soon, Anne and I, were chatting happily. Anne had been there for hours it seemed. Her plan was taking shape with paths and beds marked out with burlap. She knew my brother. She had good black gold she'd brought from home. She had a pen and paper.

A husband and wife team had also marked out their plot in triangles and made string boundaries. They were so engaged, they barely stopped to make a greeting.

Then, I saw my friend Kathy Jentz coming across the way, pulling her wheelbarrow filled with good stuff. Hi Kathy! Kathy had a quick and hasty plan and before long me and my twine were part of it. Then we were filling her wheelbarrow with mulch to mark out our plots. Then she lent me some stakes. And then we were talking about sharing the task of watering each others plots. And then I was hurrying because Jim called to say he was walking to the Metro. And then I felt like I had a plan.

And today, I have a list of what to bring for my next visit. 1. My wagon; 2. Small hoe or rake; 3. black fabric for the base of a path; 4. Four bags of leafgrow and two bags of garden soil; 5. some kind of border, either wood boards or tree limbs; 6. posts and string; 7. my bean pole, tomato cages and plant fencing; 9. an old chair or stool; 10. a bucket and a watering can.

But for now, I have to go to work. The Putterer

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting Garden Greedy

The home garden is getting some competition

Now I truly am obsessed with gardening. Today, the downtown community garden opens at Fenton Street and I preside over plot number 24.

And that is going to be my latest and greatest project. I am putting in a row of asparagus. I've got five heirloom tomato plants: Orange Strawberry, Gold Medal Yellow, Missouri Pink Love Apple, Green Zebra and the German Riesentraube. I'll pop in a bunch of pickle cucumbers (because I can't wait to pickle them). And I've got a strawberry and a squash plant, plus some seed to grow sweet peppers.

But the largest delight of all, I've got some neighbors there. Presumably, gardeners. And from them I might get some good gardening love.

Oh, and the sun is out and it's not too hot. But the downside is that they're expecting me at work today. The Putterer has to go be the Editorer. The Putterer

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Two Roses Bloom On Mother's Day

Rosa Marmalade Skies. Photo by Patsy Lieberman

Rosa Marmalade Skies. Photo by Patsy Lieberman

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Mom's Garden
At every nursery in town, there's a frost warning on the tables where they sell the annuals cautioning against planting tender plants until after May 5th or Mother's Day.

And so at long last the day is upon us and I am so over-promised that I am certain I won't be able to get even the most basic of my planting in place.

I got garden greedy this winter and signed up for a plot in a new community garden in downtown Silver Spring. At last word, it was to be ready this weekend, but each day I drove by this week. it still looked like a huge fenced lot of churned soil. No plot markings, no paths, lonely and dismal.

I have no idea how the thing will work. I have plot number 24 and I think I might use the fallen branches in my neighbor's yard to mark out my perimeters. I have plans to put  tomatoes there and my string beans. But I can't envision what 200 square feet actually is. And will I want to make a few paths through it so that I can access it? Will I have to amend the soil? I've seen the heavy equipment down there churning it up. And I read they took soil samples this winter to make sure the metal and other pollutant levels were at a minimum. I hope, anyway.

Meanwhile, my own garden is ready, too. I've got swiss chard and eggplant and cucumbers and basil and squash and tomatoes to go in there. And yet I think I don't have enough herbs and so I might want to go to the plant sale at Brookside.  But if I do that, I'll be using up precious garden time.

And then my other special flower, Patsy, is preparing for her prom. She needs help getting to and fro to hair appointments and other primping pleasures.

And there's the domestic goddess chores.

And I've got a creative project in the works. Last weekend, at a salvage shop, I bought a bucket of gorgeous pieces of glass slag. Yesterday, at a thrift shop, I found a huge, heavy clear vase. My friends at Flea Market Gardening offered the idea that I might string a few white lights in the vase and plant the glass pieces into and around it for maximum effect. I need to find the right string of lights and carefully wash the glass pieces to pick out the pretty ones for my new lamp. (Caution, too, to be sure to use gloves as the glass slivers are nasty.)

And then there's the social stuff. It's my turn to host our Friday night party. A friend promises to stop by. We may actually want to catch a movie.

And there's festivals and fun going on all over the town.

And Mother's Day. What do they have planned for me?

Life is so sweet. I'll take it all. The Putterer