Posted on

Coloring Outside the Lines

The house is dark, save a few slants of remaining moonlight abdicating to the slowly rising sun. Pothos and philodendron leaves cascade down weathered furniture fronts, and rustle from the breeze creeping through the open doors and windows.

Rhythmic dripping from a leaky outside spigot acts as an early morning metronome while I fill the water kettle and push the windows open as far as they can extend. I feed JoJo, and slip on my battered shoes to empty the brimming, spigot-filled bucket around the bases of my tomato and pepper plants.

I pluck the yellowing leaves from my bush beans and reposition the baby eggplants so that they grow in the opposite direction of neighboring plants’ rogue, unfurling tendrils. Tomatoes are reddening and strawberries are beginning to drip down from their leafy flowers.

The garden is tiny, and was thrown together in desperation, with seeds and starts sown by a beginner.

***

My efforts to reclaim this oddly-shaped spit of land from the suffocating canopy and invasive ground cover began in the yard’s lone, rotting raised bed.

[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
The house was hot, and we’d just decided to divorce; piles of boxes, furniture, and paint cans accreted in every corner. Nothing was finished. Everything was undone—in a state of flux. We’d been coloring within the lines for four years; and then we both strayed outside, scribbling in different directions.

But then and there, as the heat nipped the back of my neck, I annexed the raised bed—ripped out all of the weeds and bagged up the dirt-caked garbage. An hour later, it was trimmed and cleaned—the soil upturned, ready to welcome new crops.

IMG_8456 (1)
[Image description: same raised bed, completely cleared.]
Weeks later, I’d raised my hodgepodge garden enclosure around it—with novel expectations that it’d soon overflow with a rich vegetative bounty. But then a tremendous deep chill moved in—settling over Seattle, making it one of the coldest and wettest winters on record. Tarps and pins held the garden in place, secured my culinary cache. I naively believed I’d be rewarded for all the hours-long tending—the snow-shoveling, the pest removal.

But when the sun regained its footing and danced across my freshly exposed starts, they all bolted, leaving me to scrape off immature leaves and tiny vegetables, and YouTube multiple videos answering questions about the potential adverse health consequences of eating broccoli flowers.

All that was left to do was rip out everything I’d spent months fretting over. And start again. In gardening, there’s little room for sentimentality.

Nearly a year later, the fourth iteration of the garden has been the most successful yet.

IMG_3226
[Image description: garden enclosure with door open, along the back side of the house.]
IMG_3198
[Image description: inside of garden enclosure. Multiple plants in containers, with some tomatoes visible.]
By now I know not to expect every plant to fruit out at the same time; there will rarely be an instance in which I’m overwhelmed with immense yields.

But each evening my little garden provides: a few beans here, two tomatoes there, and a handful of mixed greens.

IMG_3232

And that’s all I need.

***

Just beyond the garden fence, the weathered bird bath stands crookedly, the tiny, placid puddle contained within it interrupted intermittently by flocks of finches. Beyond it, in the tree branches once choked by ivy, Northern Harriers sit and eye the open yard. Engorged spiders trundle down delicate silken threads anchored to newly erupted leaves.

Sun beams down and warms my dirt-covered hands, and I smile up into the welcoming warmth.

I stoop into the scraggily garden—and listen to the frenetic chirps, feel the watchful hawks’ gazes, and remind myself that I’m just another piece in this landscape.

I tend the soil, pull out browning stalks, and run my fingertips over budding fruit—their pale green, stubbly faces soaking in the light.

Preparing to fill with color.

Posted on

In Bloom

From the living room I watched as the breeze ripped through the densely vegetated slopes, rattling the tree branches and tousling their fragile new leaves.

In the distance, the Space Needle glowed torch-like and I stared on until the gusts died down and the wind-bent trees rebounded into place, cluttering the view ever so slightly. Built in the early 40s, Gay Gardens had had quite a view of the growing Seattle skyline, even before the 1962 World’s Fair raised the city’s most iconic building. And gradually, the view narrowed with the enveloping canopy, and the little rotting cottage became isolated behind a nearly impenetrable green wall of blackberry bushes and aged rhododendrons.

JoJo dozed in my lap, and I focused on the mediocre movie I’d snagged from the Renton Goodwill a few weeks prior. The wind howled again, and a thud echoed across the roof, rousing JoJo who woofed and scampered around searching for the offending noisemaker.

The next morning, as I made my rounds ripping up weeds, I noticed one of the chimney caps had gotten dislodged from the windstorm. A few weeks prior, the same thing had happened, and some wee beast had made its way into the attic, startling me and JoJo awake with what could only be described as zombie-inspired guttural cleansing. So as I clawed my way up onto the roof, I worked quickly to carefully re-center the cap, ensuring there was no available point of entry. In the process, I eyed a rogue brick that’d dislodged from the chimney stack—clearly the thud-inducing culprit from the previous night. I shoved it back into place, completing the puzzle.

With the spotty clouds opening up between intermittent rain showers, I had an unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and a faint rainbow. Just below me, pale pink buds studded the branches of a gnarled tree clinging precariously to the back slope. Glutted with promising effulgence, each one dripped and glistened in the rapidly clearing grayish mist.

I took a deep breath and slowly took stock of my little home, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to play a role in reviving this oasis.

A little slice of paradise.

And in my bones I felt something familiar—the sense that Gay Gardens will be where I celebrate many life-changing moments, each of which will become a part of this Eden, adding to the narrative of this secret long-held by time.