Seed packet on stick

The Garden of Best Intentions

          Every year he makes a list of what he will not plant, and another of how little of some things.  He never properly attends to what will become four large bushes of basil—they always bolt, thinning at the top, producing tiny, acidic leaves.  One or two will be enough.  And he’ll buy that seed packet of bush beans, of course, but he’ll plant only half the seeds, because the family tires easily of the profusion of beans, and he lets them get woody and tough, and he doesn’t like to eat them canned or frozen.  And beets—who could possibly eat the fifty or sixty beets that come from planting that whole packet?  Same with spinach.
         Even if he did can or dry or freeze some of his vegetables, he knows he can’t preserve black seeded Simpson, red-leaf or iceberg lettuce.  Or arugula.  He hasn’t eaten more than a pan or two of ruby red chard for the past few years, and he’s watched it grow into blushing elephant ears.  His carrots never quite mature, though the tops are good for the caterpillars that will cocoon their way into Monarch butterflies.  Zucchini and yellow squash are always taken over by gray beetles that exude an acrid licorice scent when stepped on.  Is it worth planting three or four hills of each kind of squash only for the dozen squash he’ll harvest before the plants attract their own insect demise?
            So each year, during February’s short, cold days, he maps out his garden of best intentions, the one that will yield only what can be eaten, a garden with proper distance between rows, between plants.  If cabbages come in flats of four, he will give two of them good space and throw the other two in the compost heap.  Same with broccoli, cauliflower, okra, egg plant.  Yes, this will be the modest, realistic year, he says to himself on the way to the garden store for seed potatoes, onion sets, spring seeds. 
         You can do this, he reminds himself in early May, when he buys the tomatoes and basil, the okra and egg plant.  For he has already sinned, giving too much space to potato, onion, lettuce, radish, broccoli, Brussels sprout, cauliflower.  He has planted all the seeds and sets, all the hills, all the bounty of each flat.  And why not? 
         Spring has sun and water in abundance.  He can be generous, giving away anything extra.  He can eat more, let the bugs eat more.  Even when he can’t keep up, his garden is art:  purple cabbage, yellow squash blossoms, lacy carrot tops, white flowering basil going to ruin, vibrant chard bending its leaves away from its tender green middle, tomatoes such bright red orbs, even when fallen to the ground to become food for slugs.  Soon, he’s abandoned all intention.  He’s done it again, as he knew he would.
            Maybe next year, he thinks.

"The Garden of Best Intentions" first appeared in Little Balkans Review








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