Here is a photo of my vegetable garden:
This is mine.
It’s nothing startling–I’m a writer, not a painter or designer. But I know enough to know vegetable gardens need substance, since they are basically gardens of annuals–ephemerals that look like nothing in June and again in December.
My garden’s got some backbone, thanks to the fence and shed and arches, and permanent plantings like the William Baffin roses, the trumpet vine starting to climb my purple shed, the little Northstar cherry trees I just planted, and the currants and gooseberries lining the main path.
It’s also insanely productive, with a healthy size–I’m guessing 35 by 45. I never buy a vegetable between June and December, and I’m feeding a family of five plus guests. And I could easily extend that season many months by learning more about storage, or finding the time to can, or setting up a hoop house. When my kids are in college.
Here’s the really important point: I made this garden myself, after my friend Loren plowed it and dumped a truckload of manure on it. I maintain it entirely myself–at a weekend house that we don’t even make it to every weekend.
The whole business is just not that hard, I think, if you have a few mental things going for you.
1. Experience. I’m not a professional farmer, and I think experimentation is the soul of the garden, so I have by no means finished learning about vegetable growing. But I’ve done a big vegetable garden every year for 15 years now. I’ve read a lot. I’ve looked at a lot of vegetable gardens, both in books and in life.
2. A high tolerance for failure. The interesting thing about experience in gardening is that it doesn’t always translate to a new garden. I had one very ugly year while learning how to manage a garden that I couldn’t go out every night and weed. And vegetable gardens in particular require a tolerance for failure. They include dozens of crops and are threatened by hundreds of pests. Not everything is going to go well every year. You have to accept that if you want to have a kitchen garden.
3. Patience. I didn’t expect to make my garden in a weekend. What I expect is that it will keep getting more beautiful over the years.
4. Mad love. I can’t say that I’d rather spend time in my vegetable garden than have sex with my husband, but it is very, very close.
The last might be the most essential element in vegetable gardening. But how do you tell people how wonderful it is to eat a tomato still warm from the sun or to find a toad enjoying the shade under your chard? Hell if I know. I’ve been rhapsodizing about kitchen gardening for years, without ever converting more than a handful of people, and most of those only temporarily.
Fortunately, the culture seems to be changing all by itself, without any help from me. Nothing like spending $5 for a dinky bag of mesclun lettuce to inspire even lawn-lovers to shake a pack of seeds over the ground.