When the flash of orange caught my eye from the upstairs window a week ago, I knew what it had to be: the first orange poppy of the spring, risen from the thick tangles of sawtoothed leaves and fuzzy buds that get thicker every year. And it was. This has been a weird spring, eerily warm and rainy, bringing everything – including the lilacs – into bloom a month before its time. It’s also been an even busier spring than usual at school, meaning periodic bursts of work in the garden between weeks of glancing at it longingly through the window. I’m hungering to get my hands back in the dirt, to tend the flowers coming on – every morning there are more and more poppies, for instance — to harvest mint and rhubarb and do something with it. Last big task was spreading a couple years’ worth of compost on the vegetable beds….
and watching, in the intervening weeks, as evidence of how non-hot-and-seed-killing my compost really is came right on up.
A year ago, I would have freaked out at the raggedy-assedness of this. Now, I’m learning to let it be. Because almost every little green sprout here (except the rhubarb, of course) is either a lettuce or a poppy seedling, possibly one of the Seed Savers Heritage Farm poppies coming up luxuriantly elsewhere in the yard and soon to look like this:
and then this.
So I’ll have lettuces and poppies in among my tomatoes and peppers and eggplants and okra and whatever all else I am growing this year. So why — gentle self-rebuke to Neatnik Virgo Gardener Within — is that a problem?
When I saw this luxuriant new crop of baby Heritage Farm poppy seedlings — entirely from last year’s self-seeding, like the even more luxuriant-unto-weediness blue flowers of Love-in-a-Mist soon to bloom — I realized that my garden is truly coming into its own, developing a real perennial life of its own, without my constant nagging and worrying and care. Just think how many pink blooms will rise from this patch of icy pale green. (And, I hope, soapwort from the currently bare ground in front of them. I didn’t have great luck with the soapwort shampoo I made from the mail-ordered roots, but I still love the idea of growing it.)
In fact, being left alone might just make it better. My perennials will be three years old now, settled into a maturing rhythm of growth and self-seed and regeneration. And that’s as it should be – they are living their own lives now, springing out into the cottagey wildness of plants being plants, of randomness and bloom. I don’t need to control. I don’t need to micromanage and obsess. I need to support them and pull out the weeds that choke them but otherwise pretty much let them be. And accept what they give me. This is gardening as freedom, not only as drudgery – gardening as genuine solace and relief. And I love it.
Out into the vegetable patch I went one recent evening with a colander and cleaver: I pulled up a bowlful of these little volunteer lettuce shoots for a salad of broiled chicken and Green Goddess dressing and goat cheese and tomatoes and then cleaved off the leaves of the rhubarb, tossed them into the compost, and chopped the stalks for the first fresh rhubarb cobbler of the year. I ate, and I relaxed, and I was thankful for the bounty of the unfussily ordinary, the plants going on about their lives, whether or not I am there to see.