I dream of an heirloom garden
Text | Linda Gridley Lane
Brad and I are driving down our road. Strangely shaped heirloom summer squash emanate from the garden. Growing like kudzu, they accuse us as we drive by, “We are so many. What will you do with all of us?” When I awake I admit that it is my greatest worry—too much produce and not enough time to harvest it.
Next I am flying high over orderly fields, recently planted and starting to show green. Yet outdoors, when I awake, there are still patches of snow. The rest of the land is that dull ashy color just before the green starts showing. Later, as the sun shines, there are hints of bird song, just beginning.
It is not for lack of love of gardening that we have abstained from planting these past few years. Our last garden had a promising start, but perhaps we were too ambitious, trying to do too much with our lives. The garden filled with weeds and yielded very little.
We are thinking heirloom seeds this year because we’d like to gather seed from some of the plants we grow to save over the winter and grow next year. Theoretically, this could be the last year we ever buy seed. Nevertheless, the seed companies have nothing to worry about on our account. We will never stop experimenting, trying varieties new to us, though perhaps long-cherished and nurtured by others.
Brad is the first to act on the impulse to grow green things. He finds an heirloom seed company online and orders Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash, White Egg Turnip, Victoria Rhubarb, Mary Washington Asparagus, Burpee Longkeeper Red Tomato, and many others. When these arrive we realize there is enough seed to fill our front and back lawns and much more. The small seed packet of iceberg lettuce, for instance, has a staggering 700 seeds in it.
As a second thought and not to be outdone, I order heirloom herbs, hybrid annual flowers, and more heirloom vegetable seeds.
Perhaps we should rent the acre of land behind us, Brad suggests.
Instead let us share some of our surplus seed with others, I propose, and then add with a note of irony that we can rent the back acre another year if we want to open a small truck farm.
In the weeks that follow, I read “Square Foot Gardening,” by Mel Bartholomew. I decide to plant using “square foot” ideas. Brad will use traditional rows. We take stakes out in back and Brad paces off two generous plots.
Inside again I use graph paper to lay out plans for my part of the garden. Mr. Bartholomew clearly recommends starting small, suggesting a modest four foot by four foot garden. I agree wholeheartedly. One can get overwhelmed if a garden is too large. Never mind that I am supposed to plant an area 27 by 26 feet. That works out to 25 of those four by four blocks.
What to do? The answer is obvious—throw discretion to the wind. Spring is a time of burgeoning excess anyway. Soon my graphed garden is full of tomatoes and thyme, nasturtiums, marigolds, cleome, peppers, onions, peas, carrots, cauliflower—all manner of wondrous bright, beautiful, growing things.
So what if there is too much. We’ll share with our neighbors, friends, and family. I’ll carry vegetables around in my car trunk and give them away to strangers. e’ll learn how to can and freeze. We’ll eat salads every day.
We spread an old sheet on the floor in the living room. Brad fills pots with potting soil, I count out seed, plant, and label some of the varieties which need to have a head start.
Six days after our initial planting, seedlings are already showing. We stand over them, beaming like new parents.
After danger of frost is past, we plant for real, out in the soil freshly roto-tilled. I start out with gloved hands to keep my fingernails clean, but soon the gloves come off in my enthusiasm. I’m digging soil, pressing and patting seeds and seedlings according to earlier plans and dreams.
I’ve already seen our heirloom garden. And it is beautiful.
Linda Gridley Lane now lives in New Hampshire, but she grew up on a dairy farm in Grahamsville. When she was old enough to walk the rows in a straight line, her mother taught her how to plant seeds in the garden. Wherever she goes, she says, she brings along the rural virtues that were imparted to her—and in this case, a bag of heirloom seeds.