Sunday, April 22, 2007

I Engage in a Flight of Cockeyed Optimism

The guy behind me in line at the garden center said ruefully, "Another year of killing vegetables." He had parsley and watermelon plants and from what his wife said, they had already bought other vegetables.

I bought two kinds of heirloom tomatoes, one red and one yellow, and a cowhorn chili pepper plant. The plants were pretty cheap. The pots, cage for staking the yellow tomatoes and two bags of potting soil, not so cheap. Add that to the six rosemary, six thyme and two basil plants I put in the side garden and its been a very domestic/botanical kind of week.

I flower-gardened in Ohio, where the growing season began on about July 7th and ended on about August 2nd. I was really ambitious for awhile, starting plants from seeds in an elaborate set-up up lights, trays and warming pads in the basement. (After a couple of years I gave up and they mouldered. Now my brother-in-law has them and is probably putting them to good use.) But I am not so good at, you know, keeping up with stuff. I do it in spurts. The office slowly drifts into disaster and then one day, in a fit, a clean the thing up. (Or, as it took the last time I cleaned my office thoroughly, three long days of moving furniture and sorting and painting.)

The problem with plants is that if I do that, let them drift for awhile, when I swoop back in with a burst of energy, they're dead. Weeds have taken over. I bought pretty three colored shrubs and planted them in front of our family room window. Turned out they were a kind of willow. Willow trees are weeds. They don't mature, they just grow until they get too big, split and die. These went to six feet in a couple of years and it was like we were living underwater. One night I was home alone, watching television. It was windy. They were scratching the glass and driving me nuts. I took my pruning sheers, went out at the dark and cut them down. In the morning it looked a little like the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil had been attacked by the family from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The one thing that always did well in my garden in Ohio was my thyme. If I watered and fed it, it grew. If I ignored it, it grew. When I needed thyme, i went out and pulled some off and it grew. It had thyme in February. In Ohio.

Hence the herbs planted in the bed on the side of the house. I had gotten used to wandering outside and plucking some thyme. I had, in Ohio, also planted Rosemary but we were in zone 5 and Rosemary is only hardy to zone 6 which is an advanced gardening way of saying that every winter it died, unlike the thyme.

Texas is warmer than Ohio, so I figured that rosemary would go well here. I bought my six plants and brought them home and was about to stick them about six inches apart when I happened to glance at the planting instructions. It turns out, in Texas rosemary grows into a three foot shrub. I had been about to make the reverse of the mistake in Spinal Tap with the Stonehenge dimensions. Luckily it's a big bed and I was only using a corner of it. Now we will have an artful planting of rosemary bushes.

About the tomatoes. They're a fond hope that this year I will finally be able to eat something other than grocery store tomatoes. if the only tomatoes you have ever had are grocery store tomatoes, well, I'm sorry. You've never actually had a tomato. If I neglect these, I won't have tomatoes, either. But hey, all I have to do is look up when I let the dogs out and think, 'oh yeah, gotta water the tomatoes.' And they have to grow.

Okay, it's a pretty iffy proposition all the way around. But I'm feeling optimistic. And if I manage to grow both the basil and the tomatoes? Homemade pasta with pesto made from my own basil and fresh tomatoes. Oh God. It's worth the gamble.


Blogger Karen at Pen in Hand said...

I am so optimistic about your tomatoes that I can right now actually taste them sliced up with a little mozzarella and balsamic vinger. Mmn.

April 22, 2007 9:46 PM  
Blogger Beth Adele said...

I love plants and gardens but, unlucky for the plants I've bought over the past year, I share your gardening approach. Now, plants take one look at me and shrivel.

Except for my ivy plant, I've managed to allow the ivy to survive. Although it's looking a little brown lately.

But I too am hopeful for your garden, because -- fresh tomatoes! Yum!

April 23, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger Haddayr said...

Tomatoes are always, always ALWAYS worth the gamble.

Even if you only get one.

Even if you get none.

But for you I hope bushels, and then you can write about it in the food blog!

April 26, 2007 8:44 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I'm trying the seedling thing inside, but the tomatoes (green zebra striped) and the basil haven't sprouted yet. Not a good sign since the greens have sprouted wildly and all lean toward the window.

My father obsessed over tomatoes every year, and only now do I understand it.

Yours will grow! There's sun in Texas!

April 27, 2007 8:49 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Every day I move them around the deck, catching the sun. They look to be thriving!

April 27, 2007 4:08 PM  

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