Today we built fences. I feel like there should be a metaphor in that statement, but it's the truth. It was Sunday and we each ate breakfast-for-one (mine were two slender* slices of toast with peanut butter and a brulee cup filled with peaches, strawberries, yogurt, and Kashi GoLean Crunch; Robb got four fat slabs of bacon from the Brooklyn Meat Hook and fried them up, then wisely ate them as a BLT [*We only had one roll and I donated most of the bread to Robb's BLT cause.]) And so, after coffees and foods and pretty good nights of sleep, we headed out into the hot muggy yard. You couldn't pick a worse day for building fences. A layer of thick, wet heat hung around our heads. I pulled up weeds and discovered the birthplace of all mosquitoes ever. Robb set up his sawhorse and consistently misplaced his entirely see-through safety glasses. (My joke about them being like Wonder Woman's jet--invisible, and therefore hard to find on the runway--did not find great reception.) We measured and sliced our lattices into smart little pieces, stapled together the broken bits, drilled two-by-fours into the corners. Camper sulked at the kitchen window for hours before finally laying down on the cool tiles, where he continued to sulk in his sleep. You see, our fence is blocking him from his favorite hang-out--under the rhododenron bush is where he spies on the kittens that seem to have been born in the weeds of the neighbor's yard. He likes to lie in the cool dirt beneath the bush and watch for movement, barking at mysterious branches that bend in the wind, squirrels, birds, butterflies. And on very special occasions, kittens, who are not scared of him, mind you. They just stare at him blankly, knowing they are safe.
While Camper has been enjoying a summer full of kitten chases across our vegetable beds, our lettuce crops, funny enough, never grew. If the life of a single lettuce plant ever began this summer, it was ended quickly under the paws of sweet Camper, who likely tore up their delicate roots in his impossibly futile kitten hunt. After a while, the weeds crept in and we felt too tired to figure out which (if any) were seedlings and which were weeds. And so we let the area grow over with a rampant vine called purple bells. It's a vine we planted on purpose years back, hoping to train them to climb our fences (which they did), but without knowing that the bells would find their way into every bed of dirt--even between the cracks on the walkway--and if you feel just weary enough from life, just tired enough to let go, the purple bells will take advantage of your malaise and literally grow up and over every plant and structure in your garden. (The year we got married, we came home to find our garden shellacked in the vine--even the cherry tree had long, twisting vines snaking around every branch.)
But because we are the ones who decide if there will be arugula in our future, we have elected to take control of the situation. Yesterday, all of the purple bells came out (except the ones on the fence, because they will still always be pretty). We built the short lattice fence and re-tilled that area of the garden and started all over again, which feels very ballsy in the middle of July. It is called a mid-season crop in many gardening books. In my gardening book, I call it a do-over. And why not have a do-over? (And here, I will make a metaphor, because I believe this to be as true in life as in the garden.) It's just seeds and dirt. It's just sun and time and sweat. And when you come indoors, it's just air-conditioning, and a tall glass of bubbly water with a splash of cranberry, and a bowl of homemade salsa and tortilla chips, and the second half of the original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears (because the damned Netflix on-demand crapped out on us last night right as the Bears were making a comeback). There's a scrape on my arm from the raw edge of wood, but there was also a very good shower and a very good nap. But best of all, there is the feeling that we took back our garden today from forces that we felt were beyond our control. We said damn it, I want to eat a fancy salad of mesclun and arugula and beets, and I don't want to buy it at the farmer's market. I will grow it myself, thank you very much. And you know what? I do believe we will.
A final word on growing a successful garden. I am no expert, and I have (and continue to have) many failures, but I have come to realize that my most successful gardens are the ones that I look at every single day. Not from the back steps. I mean that you should take a tour of your garden every day. Visit with them all as you brush your teeth before work, and say hello when you come home later that day. See how the plants are doing. Take note of what is being nibbled on. Then worry about how you can fix it. Take pictures of the plants you're most proud of. Say prayers for your weaklings. Think about fertilizing, even if you don't do it. Pull the weeds as they pop up, and most importantly, at all costs, you have got to stay on top of those damned purple bells. (And now, if you feel like it, you may make the metaphor, for who knows what plague of vines haunt your yard, just waiting for your summer ennui to kick in so that they may run rampant.)