Thirty seven years. Wow. Back in 1981, newly married and a graduate student trying to get through the ordeal of my degree, Sue and I planned our very first garden. What fun it was; we rented a plot of fertile ground near our off-campus house (more like a bunker!), one rectangle among many set aside for Dartmouth grad students. We started some seeds, went to the local nursery to get some plants, and got lucky (the ground was very rich, amended each year with manure from a farm and plowed in with a tractor). We had corn, tomatoes (Better Boy and Roma), peppers, squash, flowers...it was just memorably wonderful. The seed planted by my grandfather and father when I was a young boy took hold - I discovered the joy of gardening. Sue and I were on our way to annual digging and planting and harvesting and great meals.
Those who see my Facebook or Instagram posts and read this blog know that I am pondering a very different summer - one with little garden to speak of. Have I lost my mind? Not really - with the loss of our dogs, we are more free to travel and my speaking schedule is pretty heavy in the spring. I also would like a bit of a break - a summer to be less stressed and captive to watering and troubleshooting - time to write, reflect, walk, bike, kayak. I've got a flat of seedlings going, and many of them will be accompanying me to local speaking events.
Why am I thinking of gardening during the Olympics? It is the variety of sports - some marathons, some finesse....moguls and slaloms, downhills, flashy jumps and twists and turns. Lots of effort, but not assured results. Joy in just the participation. Tears of frustration with unanticipated failure.
Not only does each gardening season include some of these elements, but the span of years that we garden exhibit them as well - our garden years are a marathon of sorts. When the incredible excitement of spring - seed catalogs, seed planting, daily progress - gives way to hot, muggy days, endless watering, suckering, staking, tying, weeding - it certainly gets to be physically exhausting (yet such good exercise!). Diseases, critter damage, unexpected and surprise problems add in mental exhaustion. If all goes well, there is a medal at the end - the harvest, the recipes, the incredible fresh deliciousness of it all.
Repeat that cycle year after year after year and it will eventually take its toll. Many hard core gardeners don't really consider any break in the action; gardening happens 12 months a year. I've seen burnout happen so often; during my many years in the Seed Savers Exchange various people dive in, grow huge gardens, save loads of seed - then pull completely out, never to be heard from again. Our Dwarf Tomato Breeding project exhibits something similar - over its 13 years, people drift in and out, sometimes becoming deeply involved, then suddenly vanishing.
Perhaps my idea to (mostly) take a year off is to ward off feelings that this is becoming a bit stale and familiar. Change is good - it keeps us fresh, on our toes, on top of our game, and it keeps us out of ruts. I will obtain my gardening joy from watching the results come in on a very busy year for our dwarf project. There will be thinking time, which produces new ideas. There will be time to finish that third book, slip away for more kayak or biking time, and be able to take some trips without being obsessed by the health of the big garden with all of those containers and bales.
But Sue and I will certainly miss this!