Planning the Garden

The days are starting to lengthen and I am reminded that eventually it will stop being extremely cold and wet and it will start being warm and moist, ideal conditions for gardening, so I’m starting to do some serious garden planning groundwork. Unlike at the old house, where I just kind of randomly tossed shit in the ground and see what grew, I’d like to have an established plan. I know, I know, it’s kind of novel for me too. Usually I am a seat of the pants sort of person and this time I’m actually sitting down and drawing out little charts and things. Researching! I have been caught poring over The Sunset Garden Book at the bookstore, even. I don’t know what’s come over me.

The current scheme is extending the ornamental beds in the front of the house and putting in a vegetable garden in the back of the house. This looks like it is more or less what previous gardening tenants have done, given the, er, archaeological remains I’ve uncovered, and I have a headstart in that the soil here is of fairly good quality. Assuming my compost pile is not a complete disaster (the jury is still out on this) I should be able to get away with not having to bring in soil from somewhere else to get things going.

In the front, I’m going to focus on native plants and I’m going to try and use a good mix for texture and visual interest. Because I’m not fencing for deer, I’m looking for stuff that will be reasonably unappealing for deer and then kind of just letting whatever happens, happen. I suspect this will be a multi-year project because it’s unwise and ambitious to try and cover the whole yard in plants in a single season. It will be a creeping as I slowly take over and eliminate the amount of grass I have to mow. (My deep fear of lawnmowers is, I confess, a powerful motivator.) I also plan on keeping the existing plants, in part because Olaf and his wife put some of them in and I like that idea of continuity.

In the back, though, I am fencing, because I want to keep deer and bunnies out. I also need some kind of bed control for gophers. This is where things get interesting, because fencing and bedding can get very expensive, very fast. I still haven’t decided what to do about the fence but I suspect it ain’t gonna be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. For the beds, my original scheme was just to throw together some raised beds, but buying lumber and good wire is costly. I thought about wine barrels but they are also expensive. My father suggested giant buckets, which he uses, and I can’t say I am thrilled with that aesthetically, but the other proposals I’ve been looking at are planting bags or lined milk crates, which are also not exactly gorgeous to look at. Basically, the veggie garden will be functional, but ugly, I think.

Which brought up some interesting thoughts for me as I started considering the way low income people are told they should build gardens to resolve their food security problems. Aside from the fact that not everyone has the physical space to garden, many people also lack time, and gardening does require time. It also requires money. To set up a full kit with nice solid raised beds and some trucked in soil is expensive, probably out of the reach of some people who might be interested in gardens. Going quick and dirty with things like planting bags is less expensive, but may attract unwanted attention from the arbiters of the garden, for people living in urban areas who may be told by their landlords that they can’t use bags (or lined milk crates, or what have you).

I have a lot of problems with the way we talk about issues like food security and class and how we tell poor folks what to do, and I think when I actually sit down and start pricing out gardening options, I’m going to post about it, because I think people should actually know what they are asking people to do when they carelessly suggest that someone ‘just start a garden.’ I’m also going to try to log hours spent in the vegetable garden to give a more realistic picture of how much time is involved here, because many people seem to have skewed ideas about the amount of labour involved in gardening.

I’m excited about the garden and all of the things that will be happening in it and I’m glad that I have space to garden as well as available time and the funds to back it up. I think that personal and community gardens are a terrific resource that should be made more accessible, using a variety of means, but I also think it’s important for people to remember what they are doing when they lecture people about how to live and how to manage their lives. What are we really saying when we tell people to garden? What is actually involved in establishing and maintaining even a small vegetable garden?

We’ll see how long it takes for my garden to pay for itself, and we’ll also see exactly how much goes into it over the long term. I’m gardening because I want to, because I like having a structured activity to do outdoors so I can force myself to get off the computer and go stretch my legs and bask in the sun. I bet I’d feel differently if I had to and if I was relying on my garden as a source of nutrition, perhaps even counting on it because I’d blown part of the food budget on putting the garden in and getting it going.