March 26, 2019
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Confessions of an unrepentant lapsed gardener

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
If there were such a category at the fair, I am confident this burdock would take Best in Show.

This is the time of year I tend to avoid Facebook. It’s not the politics, off-color jokes or insipid inspirational memes that have me boycotting social media, though.

Nope, it’s out of equal parts shame and envy that I’m avoiding the barrage of colorful and tasty photos posted by friends and family showing off the bounty from their home gardens.

As I have long held, there are two kinds of people in this world — those who garden and those who hope to reap the benefits of the gardeners.

Over the years I’ve tried to be the former, but a few years back I waved a white surrender seed packet, declared surrender and became one of the latter.

It’s not like I’ve not given it the old college try, either.

When my late husband Patrick and I were first together we lived along the river in Fort Kent, and the garden spot was typically flooded each spring.

That meant once the water receded, we were left with a plot of land covered with river-deposited nutrients. You could almost hear things growing after planting seeds.

All that first summer we weeded, we watered we worked to keep pests at bay and in the fall were rewarded with a bumper crop of string beans, carrots, tomatoes, onions and peas.

Which, as any gardner knows, is when the real work begins.

For hours on end we sat on the porch shelling peas, snapping beans and washing other produce in preparation for freezing and storage.

On our most productive day, we were sitting on the porch taking a break surrounded by bags filled with fresh string beans and carrots that were clean and ready for the freezer.

At that exact moment an elderly relative of Patrick’s happened by, spotted the bags and took them. All of them.

So much for that harvest.

After moving on to the farm and far from a certain elderly relative, we had to start over literally building a new garden site from the ground up.

By that time we had obtained a powerful gas-operated tiller, which I was confident I could handle.

It had rapidly spinning tynes in the back and moved along on two wheels on the front. My job was to grab onto the two handles that held the controls and guide it along walking behind it.

The tiller stirred up the soil in a three-foot wide swath as it clanked along and it was only at the end of the first row I discovered not only were there no brakes on the thing, you steered it using brute strength.

Lacking brakes and enough strength to control it, I had no choice but to hang on and keep walking behind it out of the garden in into the woods until Patrick heard my calls for help and rescued me.

Since we did not want a garden 3 feet wide by several hundred feet long, he took over the tilling operation from that point on.

For the next several years we kept that garden fed and happy with manure, peat moss and water enough for it to produce enough vegetables for us to eat fresh, share with friends and freeze for the winter.

And I hated every second of it.

I mean it. It wasn’t just dreading the physical labor — I don’t mind a good outdoor project at all — or the summer’s biting insects. It’s that I have actual very real hostile feelings toward gardening.

But I am also stubborn, so I kept at it.

As stubborn as I am, Mother Nature had me beat.

I’d try to come up with creative ways to keep weeds down so I wouldn’t have to pull them. I lined the rows with newspaper or black plastic to keep them from growing, but they’d find their way above ground.

I built raised beds to reduce the time I had to spend bent over and on my knees crawling around in the dirt.

Finally, that last year when in my heart I knew it was time to call it quits, I reduced myself to what I call “Darwinian gardening,” in which I plant seeds, turn my back and let the best plant win.

I got one heck of a dandelion crop that year.

Luckily for me, my departure from gardening has timed nicely with a resurgence of farm stands around the area, so every week or so I can simply visit one of these stands, look over the produce and select what strikes my fancy.

And, I’m actually getting over the feelings of inadequacy when it comes to those Facebook photos.

I mean, sure — those carrots, beans, beets and corn are all well and fine, but you should see the record burdock plant I have growing in my yard.

Now, that’s a photo to inspire social media green thumb envy.

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