2013: my good, bad, and ugly garden year
IF I HAD TO GIVE 2013’S GARDEN A NAME, I guess I’d borrow one from Clint Eastwood’s early career: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Thankfully, il buono—represented then by Clint’s role as Blondie—came out ahead this time, too. But did we really have to go through quite so many shootouts, hangings, and battle scenes to get to the buried treasure? Oy. A recap, in words, photos, and videos (including my public-TV debut, above) of a wild, worrisome, and also truly wonderful season.
January: It started out with a bang, and a new book: “The Backyard Parables” earned praise from readers that included Liz Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” renown (who called my book, “a blessing.”) My weekly public-radio podcast got a new format in January, too (see the March entry for the payoff!).
February: What I want in winter is a big, fluffy duvet of snow, and February cooperated (above, the back garden then). So far, so good. Defying the weather, I raced around nonstop to do lectures and bookstore signings. (By year end, the total events I would do would number nearly three-dozen! My old car and I are both showing the wear.)
March: “The Guardian” newspaper in England named my radio show in its top-5 garden podcasts, alongside programs from the BBC and the Royal Horticultural Society. (What? You haven’t subscribed yet? The details for iTunes, Stitcher, RSS and more. It’s free.) All was basically well outdoors, and by month’s end, I was planting peas on schedule (with Mendel in mind). I even wrote a piece for “The New York Times” op-ed page, on seed ethics.
April: The month was crazy-busy, of course; cleanup time always is. I launched a new seed-starting calculator on the website (when to sow what); planned my “soup garden” (while continuing to dine on last year’s brew); scoured the web for seeds for my favorite but elusive sunflower…you know, the usual get-the-garden-going stuff, all done in a hurry.
May: Garden Conservancy Open Days began with a rainy tour, but hundreds of you came to visit, anyhow. I have never seen the garden’s flowering trees and shrubs—apples, crabapples, lilacs, etc.—more luxuriant. But before we could get to the next tour date, the year’s first really ugly outburst: The worst hail I have ever seen in more than 25 years of gardening here fell on May 21. Goodbye, garden. (Note: This is the ugly part.)
June: What is usually my busiest month of visitors saw the gates closed instead. The rakes came back out to gather the carnage, in the form of hundreds of wheelbarrows full of shredded foliage. From the giant forest trees around me to my vegetable-garden garlic and rhubarb (above, what was a massive, 4-foot-tall plant), nothing seemed to escape—and all of it was strewn about, often far from where it had once grown. We salvaged the battered rhubarb stems for crumble, compote and even syrup (below) to eat and freeze. When life deals you lemons, and all that, right?
July: Because of loads of rainfall, the grass never slowed down as it often does in high summer. Vroom, vroom—and away I mowed, every few days. By now, most of the hail-battered ornamentals had sprouted new leaves—but smaller, pitiful ones, leaving lots of gaps. I shopped the summer sales for “filler” plants (because another tour was coming up a month hence), and meantime enjoyed the view of simpler things, such as the new unmown area up the hill, that was starting to really work, catching my eye and attracting dragonflies and other insects, birds and more. See the amoeba-like shaggy portion up by the copper beech tree in the photo below?
August: All I remember about August centers on one very busy, very good week in the middle. First, Joe Lamp’l and his director of photography came to shoot an episode of “Growing a Greener World” to air on PBS affiliates. (That’s the whole show, including me, on the player up top if you care to stream it.) Then a couple of days later, on August 17, an astonishing 650 pairs of feet marched on the garden at my biggest Open Day ever. Insane. Wonderful, too.
September: Again owing to plentiful rain, I have never had a better apple harvest from my century-old trees than I did this year, and it started early. By mid-month I had exceeded my freezers’ capacities and was driving around looking for homes for quarts and quarts of Pink ‘Po Sauce, as my beloved niece calls it.
October: For the third time this wacky year: the cleanup begins! I took time out for a walk in my garden and the surrounding woods with a naturalist—adding through his savvy eyes many “aha’s” to all that I have learned this year from science-savvy guest experts on the radio show and blog. Around this point, I also realized that a hallmark of the year (and of the creatures I’d studied up on all season) was the word resilience. My new mantra.
November: The Brussels sprouts and I spent a very happy Thanksgiving with my sister and her family, thank you, after finishing most of the garden chores (no, not all!) and tucking in for the dark days.
December: Want to honestly know how I wasted much of December? I shopped for a car to replace my nearly 10-year-old one, and also for health insurance (along with millions of other “canceled” Americans). The results on both counts: frustration. On a more productive note, the website reached 1 million unique visitors this year (that’s 1 million different people who came to say hello). And more exciting:
I sat here typing in fixes and new features for A Way to Garden [dot] com. A website relaunch is the first achievement I hope to mark on the calendar for 2014 with a giant check, as in: mission accomplished. Stay tuned! (And now cue up the most famous of soundtracks ever, from that classic spaghetti Western, won’t you?)