Had I not grown up on a farm, I doubt that I would think twice about harvest. Almost nothing in my daily experience now suggests harvest. Bean picking, corn shucking, tomato gathering, pea shelling, wheat reaping, grain garnering are all things I left behind in Horry County, South Carolina. Most have shrunk to a small reflection now in the rear view mirror.
Nothing much suggests harvest except one thing: our flower garden.
In early autumn the garden comes to fruition, and with it the labors and hopes that chose each plant, watered, fertilized, and tended it through the long hot stretch of summer.
|the young garden, 2015|
Joe and I live in the bottom floor of a renovated townhouse in Washington, DC. We have a walk about twenty feet long and four feet wide leading from the street to our door. Because we live on the ground floor, it is easy enough for us to claim that common space as ours. So we take about a third of the walkway and on it plant a garden in perhaps twelve to eighteen pots of various sizes. Each spring we bring the containers out from their winter storage, appearing somewhat to be holding a flowerpot sale. Small, big, medium, giant, high, and low pots stand against the retaining wall like empty heads not knowing quite what’s up.
Last spring we paid visits to two nurseries. We purchased enough plants comfortably to fill each pot with its own unique blend of foliage and blossom. What could come off looking like a hodgepodge actually works because we are fairly particular about choosing colors, both of leaves and of flowers that blend nicely. This year the pinks of verbena and zinnia stood brightly beside the deep burgundy of coleus leaves, and the dark green leaves of basil and mint contrasted with a near-chartreuse coleus. All profited from a little splash of yellow lantana, and a nice small white flower that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of.
Relatively cool weather for most of the summer, and gallons upon gallons of water lugged from the bathroom faucet to the garden in series of something like eight or ten trips per watering have kept the plants healthy. Now, showing their strength in the last weeks before frost, they are perfectly luxuriant. Bees rejoice in the stalks of little lavender blossoms on the mature coleus plants. Basil steadfastly grows as if winter were an apocalypse indefinitely postponed. Mint, nearly used up about a month ago, flourishes again in its nice round bowl. Only the petunias seem leggy and spindly as they enter old age. And even they show no eagerness to stop blooming.
|late August, 2016|
Some of our oldest stories are tales from gardens. One of the most ancient of human vocations is that of tending plants. We have no idea how our ancestors cracked the code necessary to cultivate the olive, nor exactly how they managed to learn the many secrets of the palm. Harvest, of course, is not something relegated to a season, but goes on continuously through the growing cycle as fruits are plucked from boughs and vegetables snapped off bushes and vines.
But what a marvel to behold the garden reaching full climax as days shorten and temperatures fall! One morning a month or two down the calendar I’ll walk out and see the slain plants that rose from fragile to fruitful over the summer. The pots will be emptied and stowed before Christmas. The anthurium and aglonemia will become houseplants for the winter. Our favorite plant that opens in the morning and closes up at night will again sit on the bar if it hasn’t outgrown that space. And a few plants that can’t manage indoor life will die creepily one leaf at a time.
Harvest is the point towards which living things move. Every organism on the planet lives to flourish and then to die. In a real sense, our garden never was ours at all, for we don’t own the plants any more than they own us. We just provided some ground in which they took root and spent their lives, all the while giving off oxygen that I am at this very moment taking into my body and living from.
I might have a few seasons left, perhaps many, before my harvest. I am fascinated to imagine that somehow I might manage to build to a crescendo before frost.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016