Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Before we became homeowners, Jan and I lived in an apartment where we had a huge garden. Our apartment was the top (third) floor of a beautiful, old, Victorian house. On the first floor lived our landlord, Ron, with his wife and teenage son. On the second floor lived Frank, a middle-aged computer programmer and bachelor who actually lived in only three of his six rooms. The remainder served as storage for his voluminous Collection of Crap, including parts of dozens of 8086 machines, unread copies of Entertainment Weekly dating back ten years, and loads of other things he never used but couldn’t bear to part with anyway. Ron told me about one time when he helped Frank clean his apartment, and in the bedroom/living room alone Ron found over one thousand ballpoint pens as well as a dozen or so brand-new, white oxford shirts (still in their packages!) that Frank had purchased years ago and completely forgotten about because they had gotten lost in the chaos.

Our rent was ridiculously cheap, partly because we had to walk through Frank’s apartment to get to the stairs that led to our own, which was originally the servants’ quarters.

Behind the house, wedged in between the in-ground swimming pool and a parking-lot-sized slab of asphalt, was a garden plot roughly forty feet by twenty feet, edged with railroad ties. Ron had built it many years earlier with hopes of growing tomatoes, but I don’t think he ever planted a garden. Fortunately, he was more than happy to let us use it–and his garden hose for water–in exchange for being able to pick tomatoes every once in a while.

The first year Jan and I planted a garden together, we were very ambitious: we filled it up with vegetables, flowers, and herbs. It was so delightful to eat the fruits of our labors. That August we canned enough tomato sauce to last us through the winter, and we made (and froze) a gallon of pesto. (Seriously.) The following summer we started house-hunting, and the weeds took over a good chunk of the garden. The tomatoes didn’t do well, but we did have enough peppers to make hot pepper relish, jalapeno jam, and habanero vodka. (Just smelling that stuff will singe your nose hairs.)

We’ve been in our house for three and a half years but just hadn’t gotten our act together to start a garden until now. A big part of the problem has been the fact that our backyard is ringed by huge trees and thus is very shady. Our side yard gets good sun, though, so a couple of months ago we ripped out a rose bush that was completely out of control as well as about nine million hostas. I felt a little bad about tearing about plants, since I love to see things grow, but since we still have nine million hostas elsewhere in the yard, it’s all right.

p6154991sm.jpgAs you can see, we’re starting small, with a 4’x4′ raised bed. The corners are these cool bracket thingies that hold the boards and have a spike going into the ground. We filled the bed with organic manure and compost (I had hoped to get some mushroom soil–plentiful here in eastern Pennsylvania, mushroom-growing capital of the country–but impossible to get in the small amount we needed) and planted a variety of seeds. From left to right, in the front row, are Swiss chard (the “rainbow” variety, with yellow, red, and white stems), a lettuce mix, cosmos, rudbeckia (which, alas, didn’t sprout), and dwarf sunflowers. In the back left are bush beans (we opted for the purple variety, figuring they’d be easier for Sylvia to spot amid the leaves). On the back right is a tomato plant that we did not start from seed but instead bought at our local farmers’ market.

p6154994sm.jpgWith the exception of the rudbeckia, everything is doing great! We’ve been enjoying the lettuce for a few weeks, and the bean plants are already flowing. Sylvia is pretty interested in what’s going on here, so we’re hoping we have a budding gardener on our hands.

5 Responses to “Mary, Mary, quite contrary”

  1. Imperatrixon 20 Jun 2007 at 9:30 am

    When the girls were young, we planted cherry tomatoes, solely for snacking on while in the garden. We also never get enough snow peas and beans for cooking because those have become off-the-vine snacks, too.

    I really like the multicolored chard. We have some, and it is super prolific!

    Warning: roses just do not give up. We pulled up a rose bush in the front yard 5 years ago, and every year, we have to pull some more that tries to make a comeback.

  2. Pixieon 20 Jun 2007 at 12:47 pm

    The garden looks great! We’ve got tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the ground this year. And about 40,000 tomatillo and parsnip shoots coming up everywhere from when a plant or two of each went to seed last fall.

  3. Katie Jon 21 Jun 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Our garden is sorely lacking this year. Our sandbox grows laughter everytime we open it though.

    The garden looks great Marsha!

  4. Frankon 21 Jun 2007 at 10:55 pm

    I like your garden. Was the raised bed some sort of kit? I’ve not seen corner joints like that before.

  5. Marshaon 21 Jun 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Imperatrix: Jan did a pretty good job of digging up the roots for that rose bush, so I figure if it actually manages to come back from that, well, then maybe it deserves a second chance.

    Pixie: You are a big fan of the nightshade family, eh? :) Are you going to let those tomatillos and parsnips grow or pull them up?

    Katie: So you don’t have a garden this year. No worries–you can come hang out in mine!

    Frank: We ordered the corner joints from here; you’ll need two sets of them—and boards from your local lumber supplier–to make a raised bed. (I am particularly fond of Pinetree Garden seeds because they sell seeds in small packages that are the ideal size for people with small gardens.)