Category Archives: gardening

Sic Parvis Magna

From Hepzibah’s Garden

Three years ago, I planted a bare root apple tree. When it came in the mail, it looked like a stick with some squiggly roots sticking out of the bottom, but planting it felt momentous. Someday–I didn’t know when–that stick, if I was lucky, would grow branches, take over my yard, and even produce delicious apples. It’s not there yet, but this spring it has produced its first blossoms.

But the apple tree isn’t the only thing bursting into flower in my garden! All the spring ephemerals are doing their thing. Many of the daffodils have already wrapped up their show for the year, but the muscari and bluebells are still going crazy, and the strawberries are beginning to get in on the action.

Here’s a picture of my new strawberry bed:

The strawberries in the foreground are easy to pick out, because I transplanted them this spring to an area that was freshly weeded. The other strawberries are hiding in the lush clover growth. Every few weeks, I’ll give the clover a smart haircut, which causes it to prune down its roots. Since clover is a nitrogen-fixer, every time it sheds bits of roots, it sends a flush of nitrogen into the soil that feeds my berry plants. I just leave the chopped clover on the ground, where it adds organic matter to the soil.

At the beginning of last year, this bed had suffered from terrible erosion, and the soil refused to hold water. I topped it up with compost and planted a mix of clover and flowering plants. After about three weeks of chop-and-drop mulching (cutting the leaves off the clover and leaving them on the soil surface), water stopped sluicing off the bed when I watered the plants. After three months, the soil was visibly deeper–the bed had gained about half an inch of height, and the top two inches of soil were now fluffy and dark, perfect for strawberries.

Since I’m a writer, I tend to think of gardening as “worldbuilding.” When I start a new story or novel, I have to sort out the relationships between the different plants, creatures, and people in the worlds I’m imagining, because nothing lives on its own. In my garden, the other plants have a real effect on each other, and I have to keep that in mind. My strawberries love living with clover, and last summer I accidentally brought a cucumber plant back to life when I planted a bed with wheat and vetch cover crops that apparently sheltered and nourished my withered cucumber. If I keep these things in mind, I can make my garden a far more vibrant place than if I just grow my plants in isolated, sad strips of dirt.

Here are some other pictures from the garden today:

This fern and this heuchera are native plants who have just found their way into my garden. When we first moved into this house, none of the plants you can see were here at the base of the birdbath (except the very stringy lavender plant that’s currently hidden under the fern). A massive (and massively needy!) rosebush covered most of this. I finally gave up on nursing it along this year and dug it up.

I just love our birdbath and so do the local birds! Squirrels really like to hang out in it, as well. I think the way the water is reflecting the cherry blossoms is just exquisite.

The Rose Slaughter

I spent this morning out in the rain with my husband, cutting up five of the big rose bushes left behind by the former owner of our house. I took out four more awkwardly placed rose bushes last year, adding two new beds for annual vegetable production, and after taking a month-long class on permaculture this fall (free online from OSU—I highly recommend it!), I knew this second culling would help take my garden to the next level of production.

But it wasn’t an easy decision. The roses were all old and well-established, between twenty and forty years old, and highly productive. Only a few were strongly scented, but they churned out flowers from April to November every year. The squirrels loved clambering in their branches and eating the new buds. I loved being able to gather a bouquet any time we had company or whenever I got the urge.

The roses’ leaves were constantly black-spotted, though, and most of them would grow to ten or twelve feet tall without constant trimming. I couldn’t justify the constant maintenance and feeding regimen that they demanded to stay pretty. I only have a certain amount of time to spend in the garden, and there are only so many resources I can devote to a plant that doesn’t feed me or my soil.

Gardening is great about teaching us how to make hard decisions. We all have limited time and resources, and some endeavors that were once fulfilling stop giving back. There are traditions we ache to maintain because they connect us to the past—some are well-worth keeping, and others are vampiric, draining us of what we need to move on and grow.

I don’t know yet what I’ll plant in the old rose bed, and it will take some time under cover crops for the soil to become really inviting for edibles. But whatever I put there, it will offer beautiful flowers and something new for the squirrels to explore. They certainly have enjoyed the new garden beds I created last year, and so have I.

Winter carrots
The beautiful purple carrots I harvested from the garden this week.