Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Project herbal

Amidst all the work over the past few months of packing, sorting, and organizing, I indulged a few times in thoughts of what I would do when those tasks were behind me. I challenged myself to come up with a positive and proactive plan for something I could do once we moved: something beyond the necessary corollaries of unpacking, sorting and reorganizing.

I came up with the idea of growing herbs. This house has a deck right off the kitchen. I’ll put some small flowerpots of herbs on the deck and see if anything comes of it, I told myself. I know I don’t have the attention or ambition for vegetable gardening right now, but I imagined that I could nurture a small pot of some savory growing thing that didn’t require protection from pests or need special kinds of fertilizer.

My sister Lauren, an expert gardener, wrote to me with some advice on growing herbs when I asked her about it. Her long explanation reassured me that some of it would be just as straightforward as I’d hoped, even if a few parts might be a little more demanding than I’d pictured. Lauren encouraged me to think in terms of seedlings and not seeds, and I liked that idea. I didn’t feel ready to test my green thumb by actually having to wait to see something come out of the ground; using plants that were already sprouted and growing, and restricting my role to trying to make them grow some more, sounded like a task that was about my speed.

I imagined that I’d visit some high-end nursery to get the best-quality herbs I could find along with lots of garden-center advice to increase my odds of success, but as it happened, over the weekend I visited my friend Jane. We went for a walk and then ended up at her house; I was already in the car backing out of her driveway to head home when she remembered that she had planned to offer me some herbs to take home.

“Could I possibly take some that I could try replanting?” I asked. She conceded that I probably could. She fetched a trowel and some plastic bags from her garage and showed me what she was growing. We agreed that I would take a cutting of garlic chives and a cutting of mint from her.

As soon as I arrived home, I went out to plant them. Our yard already has a fenced-in area where the previous residents gardened in the past. I couldn’t find a trowel, but I found a large rake and a small one that they had abandoned in the garden, and those two implements seemed sufficient to till the soil enough that I could put my garlic chives and mint into the ground, at opposite ends since I didn’t know how much they’d spread.

I watered them, tamped down the dirt around them, and mentally encouraged them to take root. I sprinkled some water over them from the watering can, also left in the garden by the previous residents. Overnight I heard a light rain falling and hoped that it boded well for my herbs.

The next day I was shopping at Whole Foods and in the produce section discovered some herbs still in their soil, growing in small pots. Buying seedlings at the supermarket didn’t quite fit in with my vision of a visit to a high-end nursery, but then again, neither did taking them from Jane’s yard, and both opportunities had presented themselves over the weekend. I bought a cilantro plant and found a place for it within the garden when I arrived home.

In the day and a half since I planted the third of my three herbs, we’ve had a few light rainfalls and not much sun. I’m not sure how my plants are doing. The garlic chives from Jane’s yard look fairly firmly rooted, and I’ve heard no one can mess up with mint. The cilantro, on the other hand, is looking a little peaked and ragged, more like a pile of produce you might see on the floor at Whole Foods than a thriving crop. But it’s still in the ground, and I’m hopeful it will perk up in the next day or two.

Growing my own herbs would bring me great pleasure. It’s a new endeavor and one I’m not yet sure I have the skill to manage. But somehow it seems like the pieces all fell into place: the encouragement from Lauren, the visit to Jane’s yard, even the fact that Holly, who normally doesn’t like food with strong flavors, ate several stalks of garlic chive right out of the garden yesterday afternoon (and reeked of garlic and onions for the next several hours). Just as I’d hoped when I came up with the idea over the winter, though, it’s something positive, something far more appealing than more unpacking and reorganizing. It’s an attempt to do something new and proactive, and for all of those reasons I’m hoping that it turns out to be something I do well.

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