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How does your garden grow?

Posted: July 9, 2011 - 6:13pm

Summer in Juneau is a great time for gardening. Flowers bloom on every corner, and rhubarb spills out of gardens into potluck dishes all across the city. Some folks even plant corn every year, hoping for unexpected sunshine.

I envy those accomplished gardeners with their green thumbs. I just can’t seem to get with the program when it comes to “going green.” My thumb has been brown my whole life, and is likely to remain so. I cringe whenever Mother’s Day comes around, and my kids bring home the marigolds that they’ve lovingly grown at school. They would labor for weeks to sprout the seeds, nurture them with sun and water to grow into healthy, flowering plants in time to present them to me on Mother’s Day. By the next weekend, the marigolds would be dead, victims of my dreaded brown thumb.

I actually tried to put in a garden one year. I sprouted carrots and beans in the house, patiently waiting for the ground to thaw in the spring. Unfortunately, I sprouted them a little too early, so they were ready to transplant while the snow still lingered in my chosen garden plot. The beans grew to a spindly height of a foot in their tiny 1-inch square potting containers, and then they started to wither before they could even make it into the ground. Finally the snow melted and I was able to plant my garden.

I learned a few things about gardening in Southeast Alaska that summer. Mainly, I learned about slugs. If it rains, and it does in Juneau, you will get slugs in your garden. Who knew that slugs eat lettuce? I’m sure I had the fattest slugs in town that summer. I don’t think I got to eat a single salad from my garden — the slugs ate every last leaf of my lettuce. I also learned that puddles are not ideal in a garden. Water seeks its level, so it’s not advisable to plant your garden in a depression. A friend of mine stopped by one day, to view the new garden. She took one look and burst out laughing, “Peggy, your garden is concave!” Evidently raised beds are the way to go, while sunken beds are right out. Yeah, mine were sunken all right.

I spent that summer picking slugs and pulling weeds, to end up with nothing more than a handful of inch-long carrots. I worked really hard too, struggling to coax lettuce out of the ground and protect it from the slugs, while at the same time digging up the dandelions to rid my yard of this unsavory weed. That’s when the epiphany hit. I could have my salad of dandelion greens without any work at all, and stop toiling just to feed the slugs. That was the end of the concave garden.

Now every year I grow a bumper crop of dandelions, and enjoy their greens in salads. My yard is a cheery yellow in early spring, with more blooms than anywhere else on our street. Best of all, I don’t have to do any work.

This year my house really does look good, thanks to the Mother’s Day hanging baskets the kids gave me. Unlike the hapless marigolds, the hanging baskets are thriving outside, as long as I leave them alone and make sure not to water them. A bird even built her nest in one of the baskets — a beautiful symbol for Mother’s Day, or so I thought. She didn’t actually lay her eggs there, though. She abandoned the nest because of all the noise from the kids playing in the yard. What, she expected peace and quiet? She’s got a lot to learn about being a mother.

Maybe I’ll try another garden some day. I learned a new trick while visiting the Federal Reserve Bank in Denver last month. The Fed is charged with shredding old, worn out money. They take the resulting confetti, and rather than use it in ticker-tape parades, they turn it into compost. Our guide gleefully informed us that “money doesn’t grow on trees, but it helps trees grow.” Maybe it would work for lettuce too. Do slugs eat cash, I wonder?

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