Writer Elizabeth E. Boze
I was 20 years old when I finally got my green thumb. I grew up in a home with plants at every window sill while the yard was full with thick beds of Hosta, concord grapevines and a significant vegetable garden my mother maintained every year. Unable to keep a green thing alive myself, I thought I was destined to never follow in her footsteps.
But like a Rite of Passage, the ability to nurture plants came to me when I entered my third decade. Soon succulents, spiderwort and potted herbs thrived in my own home. Vegetable and flower gardens became an obsession. Garden to table meals became my main focus while learning permaculture design and completing a master gardener course fueled my growth and provided an outdoor occupation. I’ve come a long way from those backyard drawbacks to what is now my full time source of satisfaction.
I recently took my first mindful stroll to assess the garden. Winter had devastated what was once colorful flowers, delicate herbs and crunchy vegetables. The image I had of my perfect lush garden quickly became lost to the reality of my dried up and dead garden. To be honest- it looked rough. Skeletons of last year’s leftovers lay scattered throughout every bed; Echinacea stems, desiccated thyme and overwintered kale stalks made a once vibrant space seem barren and hopeless.
But looking past the disaster, I saw signs of spring’s potential everywhere. Hope came in the form of dark green chives poking through brown. Strawberries planted last summer showed new dark green leaves. Unharvested heads of garlic pushed unexpected pale green shoots out of the earth. What seemed intimidating will soon lead to hours of blissful work, even with this current mess. From each winter’s death, comes spring’s rebirth and life will fill the garden again, I told myself.
My determination prompted me to pull out the seeds I had stored over the winter. Leftover packets piled around me on the kitchen floor as I lingered over online seed catalogues. Choosing seeds adapted for the shorter growing season in the Finger Lakes increases yields, an inexpensive investment worth every cent. The trick is figuring out where to fit everything I want to grow.
A shopping trip, or two, to the local garden center is an annual must. Plants that have been started provide inspiration, as well as an option to grow varieties that are difficult to start from seed. It’s hard to resist all the bright green and colors of instant gratification and, like when purchasing seeds, it’s easy to get carried away. Pre-started annuals such as herbs, broccoli, and nightshades like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are top picks. Adding perennials yearly like strawberries, asparagus and berry bushes are especially wonderful as they return every year.
Soon perennials, sprouting seeds and beautiful plant starts will fill the beds. Thyme, chives, basil, mints and more will grace summertime meals. Patches of bright purple and fuchsia echinacea, orange calendula, blue borage and other edible flowers will feed the eyes, body and soul. It takes a lot of compost, grunt work, patience and observation to bring this place back to life but when the summer arrives, I will watch dragonflies in the field, the butterflies in the herb garden and I’ll savor each sunset while gazing at the early stars knowing that no matter what kind of physical work I put into my garden, it’s the love I give to my space that is the special ingredient for yielding another growing season of delicious abundance.
Elizabeth Boze is a CNY native gardenista who spends her time dreaming of seed-to-table possibilities at her garden design business, Bast Botanicals, and culinary education business, Eat at Home with Eli. She also teaches culinary and gardening skills at 171 Cedar Arts in Corning.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of the magazine.