“Do something you used to love, even if you don’t care about it right now,” my son David advised the spring after his dad died. “Then something you always loved will be waiting for you.”
Gardening has calmed and nurtured me since my dad and I planted onions and radishes in the backyard when I was in the seventh grade, but as the weather warmed this spring, I passively watched weeds consume my favorite perennial garden. Lilies tried to force their way through the grass mat, but I didn’t have the will to help them out.
Then in late April, my friend Dotty Motheral, a master gardener in the northeast and the desert, arrived from Arizona. Until the mid 1990’s, Dotty lived seven miles north of my place. She and I worked in her husband’s chiropractic office and our sons were best buddies. We bought bulbs from White Flower Farm every fall and filled our properties with daffodils, hyacinth, scylla, and other deer-proof flowers. In late winter Dotty started seedlings under grow lights before moving them to a cold frame in the spring. She shared sweet pepper plants in chocolate, red, yellow, and apricot hues and a wide variety of hots. We held taste tests for tomatoes, trying new types each year. She studied Johnny’s Seed Catalog and discovered the summer lettuce Nancy, still my favorite. We celebrated each variety that thrived and dumped the ones that didn’t.
During her visit, Dotty worked on the land she still owns here. She began a reclamation plan to bring back overgrown areas, open trails, plant new trees, and clear out sick ones. One afternoon, we visited her land together, followed deer trails, circled the pond, and admired widespread daffodils beds and clear inviting water. She showed me a site where she imagines a tiny summer home.
For more than a week, we ate breakfast together. In the evening, we walked in my woods and cooked vegetarian meals. One warm afternoon, we pulled, tugged, and nagged at resistant grass roots and wild morning glory vines in my perennial beds and gave the lilies a chance. Another evening, we hauled straw, laid out mulch pathways in my vegetable garden and planted onions, snow peas, four varieties of spring lettuce and rainbow chard. Just as Dotty taught me, I labeled the lettuce beds with permanent marker on wooden Popsicle sticks to keep track of the most tender and sweet. I love Blushed Butter Oaks, but still experiment with other spring lettuces from Fedco Seeds. We bent wire hoops over each bed and covered them with plastic mesh to keep birds from pulling out onions and to keep rabbits and deer from grazing after the greens and peas sprout.
I planned where summer crops will go for best rotation. We tested the soil with my 30 year old kit and learned it is too sweet for tomatoes, so I hope for a better crop this year after I acidify the soil. Once again, I remembered that I thrive on gardening and deep old friendship. Dotty photographed everything she found beautiful—the whole natural world, that is, and Willow and me.
What can you count on to make you happy? What do you love? I hope you enjoy vegetarian recipes using summer vegetables from the garden or a piece about my first gardening teacher, The Crone of Cayuga Lake.