Is this what happens when we grow up? Do we finally get clear about what matters and just root down? I just sent my seed order in (only to discover the empty packet of my favorite lettuce: Winter Density…argh!). It feels late, as it always does, and a few things are on back-order. But mostly this year I feel a seismic change in the whole process. Every year I pull together all my zip-lock bags of seeds and corral them into one huge basket, and then I go through and inventory what I have. It’s a process I’ve loved over the years, as it fills me with a sense of abundance (look at all these gorgeous seeds! Think of all the gorgeous PLANTS!) and with that delicious anticipation of ordering more. Plus, when you feel like you’ve really gone overboard, ordering like 25 packets, you realize you’re only out $35. Which is a lot of shopping bliss for your buck. The big change this year, though, is in me rather than in the process: for the first time in history, I’m not all that interested in growing lots of different kinds of each vegetable. (Flowers, yes. Still. Always.) But I used to want six kinds of carrots, for example, to see which were best. I wanted to compare all the kinds of peas so I could know what I preferred and have some good variety in type and time to harvest. Now, I’m realizing, I’m becoming a much more grounded gardener. I want delicious; I want easy; I want staggered harvests and enough variety to keep cooking and eating interesting. But I am more than happy to stick with tried-and-true, and my appreciation of new discoveries seems happy to stay in the realm of the theoretical. I do not need to buy new varietals. (There, Len, it’s in writing. To your massive surprise, I know. Mine too.)
I suspect this change is not really about the garden. I suspect it’s about my life. You see, gardening used to be a hobby – and now it’s one feature of my busy life with my family. It has always saved us money, but now we count on that. It has always kept us healthy, but now it teaches my children a lifelong love of healthy food. It has always been a way for me to get grounded, to come back to my most basic self, and now it does that for two much smaller souls as well. Nine kinds of peppers seems beside the point – though I am quick to defend the obvious point that there are roasters and jalapenos and Hungarian paprikas and bells, and there’s nothing wrong with a few of each. But will I spend time reading about the fifty other kinds I don’t have? Not this year. No time, and my energy and curiosity are turned elsewhere: to people, large and small; to fiber and fabric; to writing and ideas and hope.
The next step, of course, in the process is cleaning off the seed-starting mats and shelves, checking the grow-lights and the soilless mix supply, investing in more wooden plant labels and a new, sharp Sharpie. I’ve always loved these midwinter pilgrimages, but now they seem even more special, now that they are prompted by Ezra’s impatience. Can we start seeds, Mama? Yes, my son. Yes, we can. And all throughout the summer and fall, we can point to those plants and remember the smallness of their seeds in his palm, his chubby carrot fingers working to grasp and maneuver their tiny promise.