Soon to be renowned!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Under The Snow

Sing it with me!
A northwest gardener could be forgiven, upon waking to a scene like this, for enjoying a bit of a freakout with his morning coffee. When it's the second time in a February week he's woken to a scene like this, one might also allow a good useless twenty minutes for hyperventilating at the window, gazing out at the soft white ruin, and imagining the worst. 

If, furthermore, our northwest gardener previously allowed himself to be lulled into a false sense of security during the procession of mild winters that prefaced this scene, and if he used that confidence to pepper rare plants of marginal hardiness throughout his garden, well, then, why not get out the weed torch and go a little post-apocalyptic psycho trying to melt all the snow with that there flamethrower? 

And who among us, northwest gardeners, when cold-slapped in the face with a scene like this, would not think immediately of the unprecedented number of "hardy" overwintering vegetables we planted this year, which were only weeks away from rewarding our hard work, foresight, and patience with delicious early spring crops of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and the like? Would not most of us then, having no better outlet for our frustration, launch into an alarming, unhinged rendition of "Under The Snow", sung and choreographed to the tune of everyone's favorite submarine anthem from The Little Mermaid?

And finally, I suppose, if this (entirely hypothetical) northwest gardener was actually employed as a professional horticulturist and really, really ought to have known better than to beg the wrath of the gardening gods by opening his garden beds to a heretical cohort of New Zealand shrubs, Taiwanese evergreens, and unprotected brassicas, I'd say a little humble pie might be on the menu for breakfast.

So I'll have that. And another pot of coffee if you please. It's shaping up to be a long February.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Kinder-Garden Planning

I recently sat down with my favorite seed catalog to begin the arduous process of planning the garden for the coming season. It's the same old dilemmas every time: which crops where; which seeds when; how many times to try growing parsnips before invoking everyone's favorite definition of insanity—figuring it all out can be a true labor of love ... but also a labor of indecision, insomnia, and joyless, iterative cost-benefit analyses.

'Love' sounds better, right?

Don't get me wrong, I feel incredibly grateful that I even have a garden to plan. The ability to grow food to share with friends, family, and community is an utter privilege, so by all means, someone please slap me across the face with cold winter's carrot the next time I seem to forget that. It is only through outrageous fortune that I'm able to vacillate back and forth between potential winter squashes as if I were witness to a riveting, if unusually gourd-heavy match at Wimbledon. At the same time, if someone came along and offered to take over the planning part for maybe just one year, I would definitely hear them out ... 

Oh hello, what's this, now?

Well well well, what have we here? 'Someone' must have heard my passive aggressive cries for help. From the looks of it, someone named 'Daisy', who was possibly growing tired of Daddy muttering under his breath at page after page of lettuces when there were important Candyland scores to settle. 

That's right, this year our daughter Daisy stepped up big time to take one for the gardening team. I found this gem of a garden plan tucked away inside a mess of apparently backlogged kindergarten assignments last week. Look at it; it's got everything we need, and labeled to boot! 'B' is for broccoli; 'L' is for lettuce; 'A' apple; 'K' kale. One presumes those are carrots stabbing the kale, and the 'R', of course, if you have to ask, stands for 'rain barrel'. Add some sunshine and the can-do attitude captured in ME's smile, and you've got a garden my friends. (Also, I checked: that's not a legless weasel eating the kale, it's a watering can. We're good.)

I have no idea whether this sort of thing is normal or healthy for a five-year-old, but frankly, I'm too proud to care. My girl can already sketch out a garden better than her old man can. Now, the trick becomes whether I can get her to do it again next time without letting her know that it's a big help to me. I learned that lesson when I "let her" put rocks in the wheelbarrow a few too many times last year. 

Also, I have to imagine, I might expect some carefully-worded inquiries from her teacher if this becomes a regular thing. But we'll bribe that bridge with apples when we come to it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Smallber Giving Smuesday

Can't ... take ... anymore ... branding ... 

Yes, the shameless beating of our holiday shopping season's dismembered corpse is getting out of hand. With the recent arms race to claim exclusive marketing rights for days of the week it would be tempting to wax cynical and just boycott the whole thing. (Screw it, I'm going to shop small on Wednesday, just you try and stop me.) But, being a self-published author who works at a small independent garden center, sells his book online, and believes strongly in charitable giving, like it or not, I do have a bit of a stake in the madness. 

So to make amends for my participation in this yuletide vivisection, I have undertaken the following grafting of weekday shopping directives: all proceeds from Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday sales of my book will be donated to Hopelink, a local food bank/social services organization.

If, for some reason, you don't find snarky gardening literature on your shopping list this year, please do consider making a donation to a charity you believe in anyway. I won't even tell if you if you do it on Wednesday.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Full Disclosure

Free Kindle Version This Weekend. Yay.
I don't have it in me to play clever and coy with marketing this year as the holidays approach. The world is two-faced and deceptive enough at the moment, thank you. The fact remains, though, that I wrote this book a while ago and I've been working hard to finish my next one. It was, and continues to be my hope that people will read what I've put down and smile, laugh, or feel that piquant, nameless something that can only be transmitted by the written word.

To that end, and whatever meager "profit" follows thereof, I occasionally engage in nefarious schemes to make people aware of my book's existence. This is one of those. It's called "advertising" and it makes me cringe. But, since I've never come close to generating any substantial income, I've historically just returned all revenue from book sales straight into my advertising budget and suppressed the "yuk" factor by telling myself that at least, if more people are reading, than maybe more people are laughing. Maybe a few days get fractionally brighter. 

Do the ends justify the means?

Well, you tell me. Here's the latest pitch:

The Kindle version of Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All) will be free this entire weekend (Nov. 9-12). As a gardener myself, this is the kind of book that I would love to receive as a gift and I think it would make a good gift for the gardener in your life. But then I'm biased; I wrote the thing (please don't give me this book as a gift). So why not download it for free and see for yourself?

Then I can get back to writing, which is the part of this that I actually enjoy.

Thank you.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Leaf Season

The Rising Tide

We've entered peak leaf season here at Fencebroke Promontory. It's that magical time of year when we celebrate the many delights of having three gigantic deciduous trees in our front yard. A time when blizzard-thick drifts of leaves pile against the door and a rich humusy mulch begins to accumulate on the living room rug. A time when kids disappear into leaf-piles for so long that Dad considers filing a missing persons report and then jump out screaming in an emergency test of Dad's cardiac function. A time for getting slapped in the face by earthbound, dinner-plate-sized maple leaves and to always beware the treacherous world of abandoned toy trucks and scooters now hidden underfoot. Above all, though, November is a time for raking.

And raking.

And raking some more.

To be a gardener, during the Festival of Foliar Inundation, is a repetitive labor of patience, diligence, and, when those inevitably fail, despair. Any hope of tackling one of the many, many projects typically found on a gardener's Autumn docket is quickly smothered under a wet heap of leaves. Oh, I've tried, trust me, to carry on as though I could still see the ground, like the garden was something other than a sea of red and yellow into which our house was slowly sinking, but always failed. One cannot easily transplant, for example, though the Fall is said to be a great time to do so, when one cannot discern where the garden ends and the rest of the world begins. I once spent half an hour trying to plant a Fuchsia into some exceptionally compacted soil that turned out, once the leaves were cleared, to be the sidewalk. Back to the rake, then.

Fellow horticulturists occasionally chide me for bemoaning too much of what they consider a good thing:

"Just let the leaves stay in your garden beds; they're great mulch."

"Run over them with the lawn mower."

"Put them in the compost bin, they're good as gold!"

Well, I did all of these things three weeks ago. Now I can't even find the beds, the lawn mower, or the compost bin because they've all been devoured by the autumnal avalanche that so rudely didn't stop just because the bin was full. I cannot simply redirect or quarantine the fall to favorable or beneficial areas of the property any more than you could restrict a household flood to the waterproof rooms of your house. The leaves are the property now. I'm raking just to stay afloat

But, you know, by all means, any of you leaf-hoarders out there, if you're so fond of them, please come help yourselves. Take them all. And if you find my kids, please tell them to come inside.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cabbage In The Hay

We recently celebrated our daughter's fifth birthday with a good old-fashioned hay-hunt.  Screaming children throwing hay all over the yard in search of candy and coin—it was a delight. Really, if there's a better way to get a pile of kids good n' itchy (not to mention sugared-up) I haven't heard of it. We'll call it a parenting win. 

But I must confess to ulterior motives in pushing for the hay-hunt over other, more common birthday candy-delivery systems. Pinatas, goody-bags, IV glucose drips—any or all would have sufficed in this case. But Dad seemed to really want a hay-hunt, for some reason.

And that's because, well, Dad really wanted some hay. For the garden, of course. It makes a nice cozy blanket for all those shivering rutabagas and Brussels sprouts in the Winter veggie garden. A birthday hay-hunt, then, would conveniently kill two birds with one stone. As a parent, you can never kill too many birds with each of the precious few stones you are afforded. (Would someone please inform that miserly resource manager in charge of rationing stones that there seems to be an awful lot of birds down here?) 

A couple of weeks after the party, I even convinced the kids to help me spread the same hay in the garden. "It's like tucking-in the plants for Winter." I said. Which prompted a half hour or so of  pretty adorable, Goodnight Moon-esque vegetable tuckings-inand another week of pulling spiky hay fragments out of socks and underwear. To the kids' delight, while distributing the hay, they also turned up a few more rogue pennies and a chocolate bar or two that had been overlooked in the birthday frenzy!

All I can say is: what a magical world this must seem, to children, where treasure and prodigal Twix bars turn up even in the course of mundane gardening chores. I, for one, think that adults could do with a few more of these little magical surprises in the course of their own daily lives. Not winning the lottery, or scoring a free pizza for submitting a customer-service survey—nothing so grand or life-changing. I'm talking about small, unexpected delights which, when encountered occasionally enough, manage to change our expectations of the world and what it might have to offer. A cold-brew coffee truck that inexplicably tails the ice-cream truck one hot Summer afternoon. Health insurance decides to cover weekly massages. No traffic on a Tuesday morning. Maybe that car honking so rudely behind you is actually trying to get you to stop because the driver is in advertising and thinks you have the perfect face to represent a new line of "Haggard Dad" skin-care products. 

You know, stuff like that.

Right now, when I dig through the hay, all I can reasonably expect to find are cabbages. Which are great, don't get me wrong, but, well, I did plant them there. Not much of a "surprise!" factor. Still, now that I think about it, there is something a little bit delightful about a cabbage. Just look at it ... 

Right? Could it be then, that I've just forgotten how to be delighted by all the wonderful craziness the world hides in plain sight? Are we adults thrashing around, trying so hard to find something else in all this hay of life that we can't see the cabbages in front of us? I mean, my son just said "Ni-night bwoccowi!" and threw a handful of hay at the ground. That's at least as magical as a Twix bar, right?

I'll take it, anyway.

But next year, we're doing a pinata. The metaphors are better.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Still Growing ...

 Still Growing Gardening Podcast
Listen To The Episode (My segment begins at about 45:00)

This week I'm honored to be featured on "Still Growing", Jennifer Ebeling's wonderful gardening podcast. If you have any interest at all in gardening, do yourself a favor and subscribe to her weekly episodes. They are a great way to catch up on all things horticultural and hear some great interviews with interesting folks in the field.

I chatted with Jennifer a couple months ago in a phone interview for this episode. She was so easy to talk to I had little problem discussing the silly details of my book with appropriate levity. Since then, my life has ... changed. "Changed" is the wrong word, really, but let's not blame language for life's shortcomings. With the death of my brother, I find large parts of me missing or inaccessible. They may return, someday, but for now it is strange to listen to myself speak with such a light heart when it's still, at present, so hard to raise a smile for the world.

I've written many things in my life, in many genres, but I set off on this weird tangent of Gardening Humor thinking that maybe I could make a few people laugh and not take the world so seriously along the way. Now, this mission seems like an uphill struggle going forward. Recently, I've given thought to abandoning the whole thing. I have a good portion of a sequel to 20 Reasons written already, but I don't know how to return to that voice and humor that once came so easily. All those hilarious little absurdities that used to pop up around every corner have since gone scurrying into the dark. So what do I do? Give up?

No. Because it's not what Griffin would want. (Now there's a guy who could make people laugh.) He would joke that I should hurry up and become a famous writer already so my wife and I could quit our jobs and move away from the city to live near his family. When I told him, a lifetime ago, about this interview I was doing for a neat gardening podcast, he was excited and, maybe, I hope, a bit proud of his little brother. I think he'd want me to keep going with this gardening stuff. Either that, or start working on that epic, hard sci-fi trilogy I never wrote. But that sounds exhausting.

So I'll keep writing (whether you all like it or not). It may take a while to navigate the minefield of double meanings, hair-trigger memories, and emotional explosives that lies in my path, but I'll get there. Gardening is, after all, too ridiculous to be ignored for long. I mean, just thinking of rutabagas almost makes me smile.