Archive for February, 2018

January: Waiting

2. January 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

When I was a young mother I used to wait for my children to sleep so I could get…something…done. Then I waited for them to start school so I could get back to work. I waited for my husband’s career to take off so I could be an artist again. While I was waiting, the children grew up and my husband got tired of waiting and fell in love with someone else.

This first year in the new house all of Chicago was, oddly, waiting for winter to resume,01- (2) January because it had decided not to hang around much after such a snowy December. The shrubs stopped waiting and started to bud. I bought myself a wine red amaryllis for my birthday, and timed the potting to bloom on the day. It missed by not quite 2 weeks, but close enough. Amaryllis (amaryllii?) are one of those reliable houseplants that are easy to grow and hard to get wrong.

Gardeners and cooks spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the spring, for the sprout, for the fruit, for the harvest. Waiting for the bread to rise, the water to boil, the butter to soften. Waiting for the dishes to be washed or the table set.

In January I wait each day for the sun to hang around a little longer than the day before, as imperceptible and inevitable as the growth of a child. I wait for the days until I can pull out the seed starting mix and plant the early crops, and then the tomatoes. But I won’t be satisfied after I’ve gotten there and done that; I’ll just start waiting again, to be able to take them outside and harden them off, and then to plant, and then to grow until the cycle comes around another time, with me, still waiting.

As I write this, I’m waiting for a cake to bake. Getting impatient, I whipped the left over egg whites for meringue cookies, not thinking that they would need to sit for an hour while the cake finished, and then another hour while the oven cooled down. In the meantime, they slumped, and then separated, and I had to throw them out.

I guess I should have waited.



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January: Seeds

1. January 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here 

January is a suspended month. The poets describe it as forlorn, though one garden writer quips, “there are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is seed catalogs.”

I never bought seeds from catalogs until I fell in with garden hobbyists; I met people who would buy hundreds of dollars worth of seeds every year, for their tiny backyard gardens, or tinier community garden plots. There are “seed swaps” where people go to grab up even more. There are people who buy seeds for seed swaps, which seems like buying things so you can donate them to resale. I let myself be sucked into this for a few years, but eventually reverted to saving seeds from the garden, and buying a packet or two of things I need. (Sometimes from Walgreen’s. Sue me.)

01- (1a) JanuaryThe first time I went to a seed swap I was new to the community of gardeners, and as with everything I do vowed to do it the best, in order to make sure that everyone understood that I absolutely know what I’m doing (full disclosure: I have no idea what I am doing, most of the time). This is a pathological compensation for the fact that my father didn’t love me; I’ve spent my entire life trying to live up to the ideals of people who 1. don’t care about me, and 2. are unaware that I am playing this game. It is somehow worse that rather than judging me poorly, they don’t even understand that this is their function.

The seed swap was among a community of bloggers, some of them “internet famous” within the tiny slice of the internet that is garden bloggers. It’s a little bit like a high school class-people drawn together by some external commonality, then ranked by the arcane and impenetrable rules of the in-group.

For my first seed swap, unaware that these rules existed, let alone what they were, I carefully packed up all the seeds I had saved, selecting out the most unusual, and making beautiful packets for them. I was the only one with self-saved seeds. Everyone else had commercial packets, which really seemed like cheating to me.

The other thing that struck me is that you don’t trade packets. You take a few seeds from a packet. I suppose this makes some sense, but seems like gambling, since it’s not unusual for only 1 in 5 of any given seed packet to sprout, especially as a lot of these were expired packets. But as the participants seemed more interested in acquisition than actually 01- (1) Januarygrowing the seeds they acquired, I suppose that didn’t really matter. People were both impressed and puzzled by my handmade, self-saved artistic seeds. I never went to that seed swap again.

The seed swaps I did go to were for a largish community gardening organization, and that can be described in two words: feeding frenzy.

In this January in the new house, I bought no seeds at all, and skipped all the seed swaps.

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