I spent almost the entire past weekend working in the yard: raking leaves, spreading compost on vegetable beds, chopping and stacking wood, and piling hedge trimmings by the side of the road for the city brush collection to haul away. (Inspired by the excellent WNC garden blog Outside Clyde, I’ve been trying to let my pictures do the talking lately. But, none of this weekend’s yard chores were particularly photogenic.) My hands are now cut to shreds. I usually start the day wearing gardening gloves, but gardening is a tactile pursuit, so at some point I’ll want to test the soil between my fingers or relocate a few shallowly planted bulbs, or brush the clay from a cool-looking rock, so I take them off and promptly forget about them for the rest of the day.
I think of these days of small, but never-ending, yard chores like editing a piece of writing. Futzing with punctuation, swapping one word for another, splitting unruly sentences into smaller, more attractive ones, and reordering paragraphs, all have their equivalents in the garden that may be invisible to others – except for an overall something, a readiness, a utility, a sense of order that says, this garden is well-tended. I doubt anyone but another gardener would notice that my vegetable beds now have a couple of inches of rich, black compost on top – spread out so that a couple of weeks’ frost can kill off any rogue seeds that lay safe and warm in the center of the compost pile all winter. However, they might notice the satisfyingly dark color of the soil, or the fact that the dirt in these beds now comes pleasingly almost to the top of the wooden frame – all winter it has languished unhappily several inches short of the top, leaving an impression of exhaustion and lethargy.
In a few weeks, I’ll add some peat moss or soil conditioner, sift the soil, remove any stray pine cones, insufficiently composted carrots, or forgotten acorns, and the raised beds might (at least in my mind’s eye) resemble a perfect sponge cake, fresh from the oven — the loose, rich, dark soil mounding up slightly above the top of the timbers, threatening to spill over with nutrients and excitement for spring. To anyone else, it’ll still just be several beds of dirt, but maybe beds that give off an impression of readiness, of potential. This editing process will — and just like in a good piece of writing, should — be invisible: the days of weeding, turning, sifting, enriching, and turning again, are only noticeable when they haven’t happened.