Sunday, November 24, 2013

Season of Mists

I've been thinking of Keats lately, especially his poem "To Autumn." It is still autumn, isn't it? I find myself getting rather confused about the seasons around here, largely because Florida seems to lack them. I was just saying the other day that it is difficult to notice that time goes by here because there's nothing really to mark the passage of time. In summer, it's hot. In fall, it's hot. In winter, it's often hot. There's never that delicious moment when I have to pull the box of my beautiful sweaters down from the attic and go through them as if they were fresh out of the shopping bag. But there are other satisfying moments in fall, and they mostly take place in the garden.

I have never successfully grown a cucumber here. The giant leaves of cucurbits are too-often beset with powdery mildew. It's the same fungal disease that attacks my zucchini plants, that had almost convinced me never to grow zucchini plants here again, knowing that I might never get the flowers I so desperately wanted to stuff with cheese and fry in a light batter. But I was victorious this spring, and propped up by that victory, I decided to give cucumbers one more chance. I fear my head might swell to even bigger proportions now.

One baby cucumber

Two baby cucumber
You may be able to see that the cucumber plant is stressed, though, so I am quite nervous for my little babies to mature before everything goes downhill. Hopefully, they will make it to our plates. And speaking of zucchini, I planted more this fall. They are covered in powdery mildew, but I'm still harvesting the wonderful flowers.

Hello, lovely!
The garden is really groaning with growth right now. The tomatoes are a little out of control, even though I thin them out weekly. I'm beginning to see why one variety I'm growing is called "Gardener's Delight." So far, it's the only one that officially has fruit on.

Four tomato plants, arms flopping everywhere
We're still happily watching the pineapple mature, hoping it will be ready for cutting when a special visitor from Austria is here in December. We're snacking on radishes all the time, so I've planted more seeds. And I'm anxiously awaiting the harvest of my beets, another crop that has always failed for me but which seems to have gotten the memo that that gardener needs a little encouragement. The sugar snaps and snow peas are climbing, and I'm hopeful that flowers will shortly appear.

Overall, it's a great time to be in the garden. Anyway, if Keats says autumn is a great season, then it has to be true. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I consider anticipation to be a loaded word. I suppose most people might think of it in terms of looking forward to something with excitement. And it does often mean just that. For someone like me, though, someone who has a little trouble living in and enjoying the present, it can put one persistently on the edge of her seat. In short, it can make one anxious. It reminds me once again of Tennyson's Ulysses, who, for such a long time, was a bit of a hero to me. "Come, my friends, / 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world," he says. He's primed for adventure. He craves excitement. What's wrong with that?

As I mellow a bit with age, what I find wrong with Ulysses is his restlessness. If he feels that "all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades / for ever and for ever" as he sails toward it, he has to be missing out on the experiences as they come. His fidgeting troubles me, likely because I see some of myself in him.

Here's what anticipation got me this week. I had a reasonably-sized personal watermelon growing in the garden. I thought it was ready. It looked ready. It felt ready. I was altogether too ready, so I picked it. When I cut it open, it was white and smelled of freshly mown grass. Anticipation turned the watermelon into something that I had to chuck into the compost bin.

The unripe personal watermelon

The rest of the vegetable garden is in a similar state of unreadiness, and I've been a little fidgety as a result. But there's too much at stake here, so I have to settle down, enjoy the flowers that every plant seems to be putting on, relish each moment, and wait for the bounty to come.

The lettuce is on the move under the tomatoes

The sugar snap peas are climbing and clinging

The cucumbers are clambering over the
cage I built for them

If I may for just a moment, however, tap into my inner Ulysses, I do want to build some anticipation for a plan that I've hatched. I'm designing an England travel tour for 2014. For those of you who don't know, I have a lot of experience with this. In fact, I developed and led a study abroad tour for my college students. Details will be coming next week, but they will involve both literature and gardens (but no homework). This is something where anticipation will be necessary, though, as the Chelsea Flower Show is on the itinerary, and tickets go on sale for that on 1 December. So if you're interested, drop me a line much sooner than later...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Living in the Present

Anyone who says that living in the present is easy is likely lying, unless, of course, that person has spent a great deal of time in meditation. I find keeping my eyes on the present a task of gargantuan proportions, and I actually do meditate every day. I suspect that I am predisposed to worrying about the future. After all, in the last 17 years, I have had to move my home no less than 6 times. I am beginning to realize that I never feel quite comfortable in a place. Now that I've assumed the nomadic life, I always expect that my sense of home is no longer safe, persistently on shifting sand.

Many things caused me to step back from The Green B in the last month, not the least of which was feeling the sands shift beneath me. I think it's terribly difficult to conduct my life with no thought for the future, to focus merely on what I'd like to accomplish each day on its own. When it comes to gardening, it's even more difficult. I planted onion seeds last year around this time, and it wasn't until July of this year that I began to harvest the wonderfully pungent red orbs. When the future is uncertain, few things in the garden feel more safe than radishes and lettuce. After all, they can be harvested in less than two months. But really, it's time to start trying to enjoy today.

As the temperatures have finally cooled to a reasonable level here, I've been working in the garden, converting the overhead spray irrigation to drip, thanks to an incredible prize I won from DIG Corporation, a company that has perfected the art of drip irrigation. I'm in love with the new setup. My poor plants are no longer beaten down by the spray heads. Instead, their roots are lovingly watered by a gentle drip. And I really don't have to worry anymore about fungus attacking my plants since they're now watered at ground level.

What have I planted, you ask? Well, remember, here in Florida, now is one of our prime planting seasons. So here's what's growing in the garden these days: 3 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, rainbow carrots, radishes, corn, green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas, zucchini, and, largely because I still don't understand when to plant things, I have watermelon growing, too.

The beets, radishes, and carrots jostle for position.

Here's one of the personal watermelons that we hope to
harvest soon.

The sugar snaps are starting their climb.

The lettuce has begun to grow beneath the tomatoes.

The cucumbers are climbing up a cage
I built for them.

And our next pineapple, ready for picking in
another month or two.
So here's to the seeds we plant today, not for the fruits they will eventually yield, but for the miracle they are in the present. A tiny speck of dirt dropped in the soil can become a sprout in just a few days. With each passing day, it becomes something more impressive. May we all marvel in the growth of each day, rather than impatiently waiting for the end result.