As life evolves, so do our gardens

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Plant a seed; with luck, it grows. Plant more seeds for a starter tray, keep going and soon an acre's worth of seedlings is established. When does the word "garden" work its way into this discussion? At one plant? At 50?

On this page, we are a spread community — from Brattleboro to Bennington. One plant or 50, Connecticut River or the Battenkill, it doesn't really matter — a garden is a garden is a garden, if you consider it so. A single pot of basil on a window sill as loved as its sprawling apple orchard counterpart, each intentionally planned and cultivated.

My own garden consideration begins long ago in Pennsylvania. A story of daughter taught by dad the ins and outs of gardening in a suburban backyard. Parsley, pumpkin and zucchini are all familiar to me, as is the pellet gun hung over the doorsill and ready at a moment's notice to discourage hungry groundhogs. (Pennsylvania's got a lot of groundhogs.)

Tomato wars with the neighbors were a very real thing: everyone using the latest garden technology to grow the best, most enviable tomato of the neighborhood. My father won a few times, his technology being to paint green tomatoes Ruby Woo red. My garden upbringing was an entertaining, if not deceptive affair, with solid roots.

In college, I scratched out the tiniest plot of a space among the cement blocks of my duplex yard where I grew scraggly green beans, but lush quantities of zinnias. Inside, my housemates (botany major among them) cultivated the most magical of herb gardens. Scents of lavender and lemongrass often filled our house helping to cover the smell of laundry in need of a wash.

My first authentic garden came with the arrival of a house and husband. We lived in your typical small town, with a typical postage-stamp size yard; we called it heaven. In Pennsylvania, with both my father and father-in-law (also a green thumb) living nearby, I had it made! They taught me what to plant when, how to gauge soil temperatures, why I should plant the Japanese maple on this side of the house, not the other. They were continually bringing over plants for me to try out, and in the winter, seed catalogs to peruse. I did a lot of independent learning in those days too, proved by the flowers, vegetables and trees flourishing in all four stamp corners.

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Then my husband and I moved to Vermont. To here, outside of Manchester. We traded the mid-Atlantic for New England as we chased a dream. We have found our dreams here tenfold, but as for my gardens — not up to par just yet — the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map tends to cramp my style.

Our very first year here, I shot for the moon and planted anything and everything, recklessly unconcerned with frost dates or elevation changes. I direct sowed many a seed over rock — so many rocks — and prayed their fate would be like that of the mustard seed.

Not one thing grew that inaugural 2005 growing season, unless you count me. I grew to understand that wishes and prayers only go so far when attempting to grow asparagus. I learned of the fantastic CSAs (community supported agriculture) offered in these parts and signed up for two to ensure that I'd have ample amounts of produce and flowers while I figured this whole gardening thing out.

I am a writer who gardens, not a gardener who writes, but I'm curious, a quick study and open to any and all ideas on how to sustain myself and my family through homegrown ways. We are progressing over here in the Weikert garden plot. I have changed and adapted my gardening beliefs and techniques to match my surroundings. I am on stable enough ground (necessary pun) to now have a productive piece of land.

This year, my family and I have taken the training wheels off. We are choosing to invest our garden nest egg all in one basket: home. We did not sign up for a CSA, as we want to grow our own produce, but will still invest our money into these programs by purchasing seeds, seed starters, manure and the like from them because CSAs are a vital part of our community and deserve support. I am in the market for a rototiller. I am watching the deer's movements closely and am happy to report I have not yet spotted any groundhogs.

My Vermont garden has grown since 2005, but I am sure that comparatively, it does not look like yours, and yours does not look like your neighbors'. That's the beauty of this whole thing, isn't it? It's not about one plant or 50, or whatever you consider a garden to be. It's about finding enjoyment, maybe even nourishment, while working the soil in the space you have.

Freelance writer Tina Weikert lives in Bondville and is a frequent contributor to the Manchester Journal.


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