We are about to embark on our second season of growing flowers. The lessons of Year One were so numerous and transformative I don't think we'd recognize ourselves in the women who set out last spring with their trowels, some packs of seeds, and an inner dread that it would all somehow fail horrendously.
That is, in fact, how it felt looking out on an empty field. (For me, at least--I think my mom had greater confidence.) I had this awful sense that every seed I started would fail to even sprout, that every plant would, for reasons vaguely defined, wither to brown dust. I was burying them too deep or not deep enough. I was giving them too much water or too little. I was planting them too early. Not early enough. Somehow this feeling of inadequacy persisted even when blooms were bounding restlessly in the summer heat, when I was cutting armful after armful of lovely flowers. "It will be dead in the morning," I told myself. It never was.
Some of that dread persists. And I do not wish to invite doom upon my head by suggesting this year couldn't be a calamity. (There could always come The Calamity.) But my fear has lessened greatly. I've not become a master farmer in the last year; I can't claim with any certainty that I even know any more than I did before. But I have spent a year now observing plants closely and touching the soil nearly every day. What I have observed gives me confidence. For one thing, plants are profoundly resilient. They are, by their very nature, keen to live and spread and mature. Our little human decisions aren't of much consequence. Yes, plants are killable. But give them most of what they need (good soil, adequate water, sun) and they will grow. As a professional farmers, it's left to us to tweak conditions to make them grow optimally. I did plant a few seeds too deep (just below the surface is plenty). And I did fail to water some things enough (my sin is under, not over-watering). But by and large, the seeds about which I worried for hours were just fine.
Planting a garden is a great act of trust: trust that plants will do what they have always done and you are just one tiny part of their life.
A confession: I am a bit lazy. I can't resist a nice cup of tea and a book and a blanket in a good chair. Farming, except in winter, will stand none of this. If you so much as think about sitting down to your tea and book and blanket, you invite The Calamity. Or at least some task, some something. A wire will snap in the garden, someone will send you a pressing inquiry, some ground hog will makes its presence known in your vegetables. All of this will be very frustrating because once you take care of it your tea will be cold.
I kid, of course. Sort of. Farming at a large scale is a full-time commitment. But never at any time last year was my enjoyment diminished by the intensity of it. If you are a home gardener, imagine for a moment the happiness you feel messing about in the soil, placing seedlings there and giving them a long drink from the water hose. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you receive from weeding out a bed in summer, giving the plants space to breathe. Imagine the ache in your limbs and the attendant knowledge that yes, you are in pain and the aging body is a nuisance, but at least that pain comes from tending to a living thing that is good.
All of this is the same for my mother and me, but multiplied to fill the scale of the big garden. The rewards are compounded, too. A home gardener can enjoy flowers in the yard or harvested and brought indoors. That is true for us, also, with the added joy of being able to share our flowers with many, many others. We bring beauty to the most special moments in life, and our work heightens the pleasure of existence.
Now, at the start of February, the month during which we will begin to start seeds in earnest and our To Do lists will grow longer, I have a new perspective on the garden. Caring for a cut flower farm is like spinning a great web. We, spider-farmers, engage in a dance of constant action, placing threads in such a way that everything runs smoothly. A blank field awaits, but already we have ideas of what it will soon be, fully concentrated on questions about which arrangement of plants is best for the purposes of watering and harvesting and a filling a long season with abundance. We are building the dance floor under us as we go. And that is frightening, yes, because something may pull you in a direction you hadn't anticipated. But it is also the nature of gardening and running a business that is inextricable from Nature.
I cannot imagine the conclusion of this year--what knowledge we will have gained, what fresh plans will we make for Year Three? What will we get right this year? What wrong? What things will I stop worrying about and what fresh mind-teasers will arise?
Planting a garden is a great act of trust: trust that plants will do what they have always done and that you are just one tiny part of their life.