Here and Now



My husband says I have a binary sense of time: “now” and “not now.”

I prefer to think of myself as “exceptionally present.”

This trait isn’t necessarily a good thing for a gardener. After all, a lot of gardening is about “not now.” If you want to make a living as a farmer, you need to plan, organize, delay gratification.

But I have the luxury of gardening just because I love to. Digging in the dirt, planting seeds and watching them grow makes me happy. And I write about gardening because I am pretty sure that other people might be happier, too, if only they would also dig in the dirt, plant seeds and watch them grow. Both gardening and writing are about the senses and the imagination, two things that are as “now” as can be.

I might have a more productive garden if I were any good at pen-to-paper planning, but I am not. Instead, over the years, I have cultivated the “now” skill of planning by daydream. I can look at a seed catalogue in February, close my eyes, and see that Senorita zinnias and Coral Fountain amaranth planted next to one another will take my breath away next August.

On a day in October, I can roam the garden lugging a net bag of 100 Estella Ryneveld parrot tulip bulbs, stand in front of a bit of ground, and visualize just how they will look coming up in that spot next May. Estella Rynevelds are exuberant, ridiculous, ruffled confections of scarlet and white. In my mind’s eye, I can see the lilacs will be in bloom just behind them, and those soft purple pannicles won’t really work with the red and white. Not terrible, not awful, but meh. And if I am going to all the work of pulling up sod, and hauling out rocks, and filling in with compost, and spreading around the stinky garlic-egg powder that keeps the voles at bay, before finally getting down on my hands and knees to place the bulbs just so, and then shoveling back on the amended soil, well, meh won’t do. I will keep looking till I find the right spot.

This year, inspired by a book about a flower farm, I ordered twenty-five different zinnias, twelve kinds of sweetpeas, a dozen dahlias, a half dozen snapdragons, and a hundred other odds and ends. In the early spring, as I sprinkled seeds into one little pot after another, I imagined this summer: me, swanning around the yard like a beauty queen, my arms heaped with bouquets. Bliss.

My husband wondered aloud where I’d make room for the Sun Golds, the Black Krims and the eleven other kinds of tomatoes I’d ordered. Luckily, we recently bought a little house in town, a place to retire to in five or ten years. My last garden will grow in its small back yard, and I will have to make hard decisions then. There won’t be room for three kinds of zinnias, never mind twenty-five. But that day is “not now.” Now, I, tell my husband, we have an auxiliary garden. Plenty of room for tomatoes.

He rolls his eyes. The garden I have is already too big for me, full of weeds, and cucumber beetles and chipmunks and slugs and earwigs, and the well-chewed foliage they leave behind.

But that messy “now” always holds something lovely: a foxglove the color of cut strawberries, say, or a tiny nest hidden in the grape arbor, cradling three blue speckled goldfinch eggs the size of marbles. Ephemeral, never-again things that make me hold my breath to try to stop time. To be exceptionally present.


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