Gardening Rituals

You don’t have to be a gardener to benefit from these rituals, they will fit almost anywhere.  In fact, they already reside in kitchens, business and just plain daily living. They are born from common sense, you remember that right?

Start Early

If you’re going to get anywhere in the garden, or any of the above alternatives, you’ve got to start early.  Plant at the optimum time.  Seeds and seedlings (or ideas for that matter) have an optimum time to go in the ground not just to survive but to flourish.  It makes no sense to defy your cleared frost date or you’ll find yourself starting again.  It makes no sense to plant fall crops at the beginning of spring.  You’ll want a progression that builds on the changes of the growing season (or the market…) to take full advantage of the varied conditions.

You’ll also want to start early in the day.  Before the sun beats on your back and exhausts you and burns you (or burns you out).  Pace yourself to the environment you’re working in, be aware of the changes and use them to your advantage.  For example, get your plants in before the rain so they get a good soaking and weed after the rain when the soil will yield to your hoe.

Gardening Mise En Place

There is no difference between kitchen mise en place and gardening mise en place.  Everything must be in its place in order to conserve your energy, insure good flow, prevent injury, and make this gardening work a pleasure.  Another part of mise en place is to clean as you go.  At the end of your morning in the garden when you’re done you’re done, no back and forth and diminishing the joy you’ve just experienced with gathering and cleaning the multitude of tools you’ve used.  More than anything this insures nothing will be left behind in the garden. There is nothing worse than wondering where the hell that damn trowel went…

Protect Against Intruders

In a community garden there are a different set of intruders.  There are the rabbits.  There are the deer.  There are the birds.  There are the residents…and yes there are the other gardeners.  It’s true there are times we just can’t help ourselves.  Just one seed pod.  Just one cutting. Just one clump of this overgrown name the perennial.  We don’t mean to steal, in fact I don’t think any gardener considers this stealing but just the same we sometimes forget to ask first.

Fencing becomes one of the most popular ways to protect against intruders and many a community garden becomes strewn with ingenious and elaborate fencing. Most gardeners prefer not to use chemicals to keep pests away, especially if they are growing edibles, so any number of home remedies can literally stink up the place.  This too might keep away the human poachers.

Rest and Pace Yourself

Gardening, especially at the beginning of the season, can be back breaking work.  I’ve learned from the elder gardeners to set small tasks for myself and assign them over the course of different days. I can see the changes in their gardens each week when I return.  It is incredibly hard to do but in the end it prevents me from becoming debilitated too early.  I do get there eventually (not debilitated)…and by that time the garden just needs occasional grooming and then of course harvesting.


This is the equivalent of whistling while you work.  Gardening is like many pastimes in that it is at once joyful and frustrating, you know like golf. But occupying all the areas of the brain can reduce the frustration part of whatever pastime you call your own while increasing the joy centers. Science says so and despite the recent maligning of scientific findings, I still believe in it wholeheartedly.

This woman was clapping her feet together to release the dirt from within the treads of her shoes just moments before I took this picture.  All the while singing in her native language delighted that she had completed her morning in the garden.

Our lives are full of rituals, they are a combination of habit and proven technique.  Without them we just go face first into one thing or another without a compass or guidebook.  They are ordinary and brilliant and give us comfort and guidance especially if they are handed down by those who have become experts.

Enjoy your week.


Ghost Gardens

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In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. ~Margaret Atwood

I couldn’t take it another minute, I had to get dirty. I had to make my way to the nursery, not the big box store where they wouldn’t know a frost date if you paid them, to look around… I had to venture into the greenhouse passed the sign that said STOP it’s too early to plant these to see what I could see, to smell the fertilizer and take in the rows of color.

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I have to be in my garden, my tiny little piece of land with shitty soil and no sunlight, in order to fully recover from the winter.  There is only so much I can do now, no tilling or turning or mulching in or pulling volunteers or dividing or sowing seed is necessary anymore. And it’s the anymore part that sometimes gets to me.  Sits me down on the step to wonder what ever happened to my lovely Oaktree Garden?

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This was the second time this year I became nostalgic about my once upon a garden. The first time was during an episode of Parts Unknown: Detroit with Anthony BourdainIn all the ruin that has become Detroit there are “ghost gardens” in and around the abandoned mansions that once were manicured to perfection.  And I wondered what ever happened to my lovely Oaktree Garden.

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Himself mentioned once that it still comes back each year.  Perhaps Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, was right when he said, “Gardens are a form of autobiography.” Perhaps I, too, have left a ghost garden. That thought gives me some solace even though I believe it may have come back with a lesser vigor.  It is no longer tended with the blood sweat and tears that came from the life and frame of mind that conceived it.

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On that same street, right next door is another beautiful garden that I truly hope endured.  My friend and fellow gardener, Harumi, could make anything grow.  She was generous with her knowledge and her cuttings.  I remember to this day the dew on her lady’s mantle and the lilacs and wild iris.  And Benno’s vinca!!!

It occurred to me that ghost gardens are all around us, there is a tiny tulip that comes up on the other side of my porch each year, planted by someone that received it for Mother’s Day.  Same with the two or three hyacinth that come up along another porch in our complex, of course I had to ask…

I wonder if Jeanette’s garden comes up on Woodside Avenue in some form or another with its rhubarb and pumpkins and gladiolas.  I wonder if anything finds its way to the surface from my Grandmother’s garden on Taylor Street.  The fruit trees are gone, but I’m sure the hosta and lily of the valley have remained.  I hope…

I was comforted to look around my tiny little garden space to see the hosta peeking through, the redbud is about to bloom and the wild ginger has sprung back to life.  There is hosta in the front, too,  along with the sedum poking through and the wild geranium and columbine and sweet woodruff.  I’m a bit worried about the hydrangea but worry comes with gardening…

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When I move on from Stowe Lane I believe I will leave behind yet another ghost garden, somehow solace comes in knowing; we come from the earth, we return to the earth….And in between we garden.


Best of Summer ~ Anticipated Bounty

Sr.Garden 7-2015 (5)Over and over I find myself wandering through the Bergenfield senior housing community gardens.  They still won’t let me help, not even pick one weed or drag them to the compost.

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They tolerate my camera and are damn happy that I usually come at a time when the sun is getting too high to continue working so they can scatter practically as soon as I close my car door.

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They don’t want their picture taken.

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They allow me to roam around and capture the beauty of their toil and their ingenuity.

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They allow me to photograph their tools, probably laughing to themselves, but never their hands holding them.

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I’ll take what I can get…such is my love of this tiny little garden and its gardeners.  To see more of the garden click here.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow…Audrey Hepburn

Look Up


“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” ― Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

You may recall that last year around this time I lost myself in the tiny little community garden where my mother lives. I fully intended to volunteer there in the Spring but they wouldn’t have me. Not because I wouldn’t work hard or didn’t know what I was doing but because it was theirs. They needed to get dirty and dig and ache the next day all on their own. To feel alive, to feel productive, to sense accomplishment and to make days pass pleasurably.

Today was a perfect day to return to that garden and capture its beauty and the progress of the gardeners.  I thought I was alone but a few minutes in there was a man standing next to me pointing and escorting me around his plots of land. He is Korean, he didn’t speak much English, we understood each other perfectly.


Michael Pollan believes the gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.” And so my new friend started me at the hedge of Cosmos. These can be invasive plants the kind I used to find everywhere in my garden, volunteers they are called. But here they are a carefully tended hedge, my friend showed me the exact start and end and how he uses them to protect his plants from the wind. He knelt down to blow on the baby lettuce beside the hedge.


Come, he said. We worked our way through peppers, and tomatoes, and as we went along he showed me all the little curly tendrons that make for plants mobility. They wrap themselves around anything that will propel them and anchor them in place at the same time. I find I’m in love with these little squiggles and kept snapping away. He was delighted with everything he showed me pointing and clapping.


He has even taken over the back end of the school next door’s lot on the other side of the fence. So he became very excited as he pointed through the fence and said, in English, Pumpkin. I was overjoyed at this hidden treasure and clapped with him. He couldn’t help but laugh, it’s ok, I’m used to it.


Then he said, look up. And there in the trees were eggplants, hanging from the vines that had worked their way up the tree trunk and branches. The tree hadn’t flourished in years but was now lending itself to these vines. I must have lit up, he clapped and I snapped.


That was the end of the tour it seemed as he walked away, he must have tired and laid down on a grassy spot near the Cosmos for a few minutes while I continued on to look at some of the other plots. I poked around the other well-tended plots and had a conversation with a little boy and lost track of time. When I turned back my friend had gone inside. You know I had to see what it looked like from that point of view too…looking up from that grassy spot.


“As I leave the garden I take with me a renewed view, And a quiet soul.” ― Jessica Coupe

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Hope is not a strategy they said.  Taken from the context of some very high level business meetings where someone was trying to get their customer, dealer, vendor, whoever to respond to an incentive, process, threat, whatever. Yeah hope is definitely not a strategy in business.  Hope is more a component.

Hope is truly a component of a life well lived.  For me it’s one of the four H’s; hope, humor, hustle and hide.  None of these components can really stand on their own, none of them is self-sustaining.  They need a little somthin somethin on the side to be effective.

As a literary device hope is a key concept in many classic and contemporary fictional works. It can be used as a plot device and is often a motivating force for change in dynamic characters.  But even here you can clearly see it is only a concept there is nothing concrete happening unless…somethin.

Doesn’t mean I don’t love the phrase.  I loved it the minute I heard it.  It’s one of those stop in your tracks phrases that remind you every time you use a word like hope to look a little further.

One of the symbols of hope is the Swallow in Aesop fables and numerous other historic literature.  It symbolizes hope, in part because it is among the first birds to appear at the end of winter and the start of spring

Spring actually begins for me on April 1st.  I’m not good in March, it holds too much blah blah for me.  Too much what if and too much sorrow for me to welcome Spring on its actual arrival date.  So on April 1st I hoped somethin would bring some welcome relief from this very hard winter.

Through dinner with friends, good news from friends and even better weather than expected my hope was fulfilling itself nicely.   The emergence of my garden always fulfills my hope for welcome relief.  There is always that one day that the sun and my energy converge and begin the process of cleaning out the back garden, hanging the rug over the railing and giving it a good beating, uncovering the tiny little poke-throughs that just can’t help coming up before the hard frost fear is over.

This weekend brought me sunshine and wind to blow the leaves all the way to the edge of the enchanted forest.  It brought rug beating with no choking or sneezing thanks again to the wind. It brought out mineral oil for the wood furniture and cushions, if only temporarily.

It brought the first pansies to the garden centers and dirt under my fingernails.  It brought the end of the indoor farmers market and the anticipation of the outdoor market with its strawberries and asparagus and peas.

So while hope is not a strategy, on this weekend, it was a call to move, walk, beat, scrub, to welcome Spring and continue to hope for more.