Every gardener has a garden style. Some people like neat and orderly; others want it wild and natural. I tend to fall into the latter category. I like a well-filled garden. I don’t want to see empty spaces of soil between rows. I don’t much like rows, although row-planting works best for some plants, like beans and peas. I like to plant ground crops in patches, a patch of potatoes bordered by a patch of pumpkins, for instance. I don’t care if the pumpkins overrun the potatoes. I’ll harvest them about the same time, so I don’t have to get into either patch to pick anything while the plants are actively growing. I usually mulch these crops too, so I don’t have to do much, if any, weeding.
This year, I have volunteer broccoli growing between my young blueberry bushes. The blueberries aren’t very big, and only two of them bore fruit this year. I saw that wasted space and had to put something in it. I didn’t want the broccoli to stay where it was (yes, that’s a control issue, but I learned my lesson about letting broccoli grow in the same space as tomatoes), so I transplanted it out of the tomato box bed. I grow my tomatoes and peppers in raised box beds, and I tuck things like basil, garlic, shallots, spinach, and lettuce (and once, some broccoli) in the spaces between the larger plants or around the edges of the raised beds. This is what it looked like in the spring.
I think it looks pretty, all the different textures and colors of plants growing together, and I get the benefits of companion planting. I think you could say I’m not a big control freak when it comes to the garden. I don’t worry about a weed, or two, or even a dozen, although I’ll pull them if I can get to them. I don’t care about straight lines or tidy corners. I don’t really like monoculture. And as my back has grown ever more crooked and painful in recent years, I’ve had to accept that I can’t keep my garden looking like my parents’ garden used to look, even if I wanted to. My garden is a reflection of me: curved, flawed, but productive.
In fact, I think you could say that my garden is teaching me how to let go a little more each day. My garden reminds me that I am not in control of everything, nor do I need to be. The garden is capable of ruling itself. I plant seeds, I water, I feed my soil and the worms, I cultivate when I have to and mulch everywhere I can, but the garden essentially takes care of itself.
And there are always surprises, like the hybrid squash that popped up in the middle of the volunteer potatoes. Looks like we missed some of both when we harvested last year. I hadn’t planned to grow anything this year in that strip along the blackberries and raspberries because I’m trying to keep a dry border between the berries and the rest of the garden to prevent root spread. The squash will be edible; whether or not it’s good will be another thing. But my mama taught me not to turn my nose up at a gift. I’ll figure out something to do with it, because that’s what I do.
I dug some of those potatoes for 4th of July potato salad, and I’ll probably harvest about 40 lbs. of potatoes from the volunteers alone. (My secret? Make sure your husband misses a whole row of potatoes when he’s digging them up in the fall. Works every time.) A pair of tomato seedlings appeared in the center of the garden, in that patch I’m trying to dry out to get rid of the raspberries that were choking out everything else. (Okay, so I do have a few control issues left!) I transplanted them, but I haven’t been able to get to them to pick (they’re cherries) because the squash has so outgrown its area. That’s okay, too. The birds will get the tomatoes, or they’ll drop the fruit, and I’ll have more volunteers next year. I’m good with it, either way.
Over behind the mini-tomato box, there are some volunteer carrots. I had carrots growing nearby two years ago. We missed one when we dug the last of them from under the snow that year. Last year, that root bloomed and set seeds, and this spring, they sprouted here and there. I left them, and not long ago, my carrot-loving grandson, Bryce, got to pull them up for a treat.
And the snow peas that sprouted from the few that got away last year—well, we got several pickings from those plants, along with a few broccoli florets from those volunteers I transplanted between the blueberries.
These are the 4th of July new potatoes, red, russet, and Yukon Gold, alongside the snow peas and broccoli from volunteer plants.
These are the gifts my garden gives me, plants I did not earn with labor, intent, or standard practice. Do these unexpected rewards alter my planting plan for the year? Certainly. But I’m willing to concede the ground to the garden, to accept the gifts, to enjoy the surprises the garden offers. It’s good to let go of the need to control everything, because the truth is, a gardener is always at the mercy of forces, like weather, that he or she cannot control. And isn’t this also true of life in general? The garden teaches me that humility is a far greater virtue than efficiency. Let the volunteers grow where they may.