The Wide Angle: Lessons taught by plants smarter than me

Published 6:53 am Saturday, March 23, 2019

I’ve had an interesting mix of people lately wondering if I’m going to raise a garden again this spring.

Most recently Jen Haugen, registered dietitian and contributer to Austin Living Magazine, asked about it.

Generally we talk food and gardening when I arrive at her home to take pictures of the food she’s made for her column, but Jen isn’t the only one, and you might be tempted to think that perhaps I’m being a little self-centered in regards to my growing experiences, name-dropping big names like Jen.

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However, if you do think that, clearly you are new to this column and are way down the list of known readers.

I can’t blame people for asking though. Last year’s drama was a Greek tragedy in terms of how it turned out. Plenty of things happened, but in the end it turned out to be something completely different and in a lot of ways unnatural.

That’s not to say that my first year didn’t generate some successes. I’m just saying I took the long road to get there. Roads traveled by men refusing to ask the right questions.

And in that, I think, is partly why people want to know if I’m going to go the garden route again this year. I think they like a good train wreck.Yes, the growth of vegetable matter in the backyard yielded good volumes of food, but if you are a gardner who likes your rows neat and garden clean, then what I created was an abomination.

I suppose there is also something to be said about people wanting to force spring after the winter we’ve had. Any talk of getting outside and doing something is welcome, even if it’s reading about some nodhead who got the idea to raise his first garden in the backyard, only to have it tangle and twist worse than any string of Christmas lights.

As of writing this column, I still can’t see my raised bed in the back thanks to the  ridiculous amount of fallen and snow-blown snow that currently lays on top.

I hope it’s still there.

I am in the midst of planning some new things for the garden this year and that marks the first real change from last year. I’m planning.

Good for me.

But before we get into all of that, let’s backtrack a bit and review what happened last year.

Even the rabbits made fun of me.

My garden is a vertical stretch in the back with dimensions I don’t quite remember off the top of my head. My girlfriend and I already had preconceived notions of what we wanted to see in the garden and those included: radishes, beets, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and beans.

I planted everything in a nice and neat layout that in the end looked nothing like the idea in my head.

As the garden took shape, things started coming together as I hoped, up until my vacation, which is where things began to change. A turning point if you will.

We came home after a week away to find the tomatoes had grown too big for the cages and had toppled over, allowing the beans to finish what they started, by getting tangled with the tomatoes, because this “master gardener” bought vine beans instead of bush beans. I noticed this before vacation as they started meandering over to the tomatoes and thought, “Huh, that’s weird.”

It should be known that my mom laughed at me when I told her this. Not malevolently mind you, but in the kind of air that suggested that maybe she had done things like this from time to time.

Eventually the cucumbers got involved, ultimately leading to the master mess I ended up with. Because apparently I didnt’ have enough vines getting involved.

That was all related to lesson learned No. 1: Pay attention to what you are planting and don’t plant everything so close together.

In the process of the Great Green Gathering of 2018, I lost my peppers. No, not like I failed and the plants didn’t grow. I mean I literally lost them. One minute they were there, the next they buried underneath everything else. Surprisingly, I found them again in the early part of fall when I finally had it and began pulling things up.

And there, underneath it all, was a pepper plant and wouldn’t you know it, it was the purple variety. I had forgotten all about the fact I had the purple variety.


And that’s where it stood, one solid science experiment gone wrong and the will to try it all again this year.

And so I have started planing. First and foremost, I’m expanding, to create an “L” shape to the garden which I hope will make things easier to get to. I’m also adding a couple planters to take on different things like peppers and carrots, hopefully freeing up space in the main portion so I don’t have things coming together again.

Obviously, bush beans instead of vines and maybe a few less tomato plants, however, it was nice to have all those canned tomatoes this winter, so we’ll see how everything turns out.

The one risky new idea I’m formulating is raising a kind of watermelon that can be grown vertically on a trellis.

Now, I know that many of you are having a knee-jerk reaction right now saying, “Oh no, not watermelon. You need so much room and you already raised a travesty last year.”

You’re not altogether wrong, and I can’t fault you for thinking that way.

I’m doubting myself in this regard, but I want fruit and I’m tempted each day to try it. I’m probably going to regret it in the end, but hey, think of it this way. If it grows out of control, the less lawn I have to mow.