Thursday, July 11, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The Uftring Moving Co. headed north last week to help my sister and her family shift their belongings a few miles down the road to a new home.  We packed filing cabinets and canned corn, bug spray and snowboards.  What a kaleidoscope of material fills our homes.  I shudder to think of the inventory our garage alone contains.   

Most of my time was spent in her kitchen, wiping out cabinets and setting up the pantry.  I gravitated more than once to the window overlooking her kitchen sink.  Outside, lay situated the ideal location for a kitchen garden.  I think of kitchen gardens as vintage Americana, but in truth, they’ve grown from French roots.  The French term is “potager”, which when pronounced ala American sounds terrible, so by all means, resist your natural tendency to do so.  The French pronunciation, of course, drips with chic: pote uh zhay.   Like protégé, minus the r.  Just saying it makes me want to start digging.  Potager gardens come in a range of styles, from cottage chic to geometric vogue, but they have one end goal: to be equally attractive and useful. 

Zucchini tucked amongst catmint and larkspur.
 When I was in college, the prevailing design rule for vegetable gardens was concealment.  Behind some trees, behind a fence, behind a hedge: the key word being ‘behind’.  For some reason, they were considered unattractive.  My own vegetable garden has been concealed, since its inception, behind the garage.  The purpose for putting it back there was one of practicality: every square foot of our main yard is prime real estate for kid and dog traffic. 

When we bought our first house, the realtor droned on about “Location, location, location.”  Fifteen years later, his nasal inflection is still tattooed on my auditory nerve.  Annoying as he was, there was truth in his hard sell.  I attribute at least part of my vegetable garden’s history of hideousness to “location, location, location”.  Hidden vegetable gardens quickly fall victim to two vices: poor water access and loneliness.  Out of sight, out of mind adds up to overgrown weeds and under-cultivated plants.  Add to the equation a distraction-prone mind, and a hidden garden falls off the radar with ease.  Dirty clothes, dirty dishes, hungry offspring, Pinterest, HGTV, bags of Chips Ahoy, and yes, even the husband are all front and center with their needs/temptations.  The ‘behind’ garden just can’t compete.

In the literary classic, The Secret Garden, hidden horticulture made a wonderful escape for two bored children trapped in 19th century England, but in my whiz-bang  21st century world, it makes for good intentions gone bad.  Which brings us to a horticultural catch-22: are vegetable gardens hidden because they are ugly, or are they ugly because they are hidden?

One day, when my kids have moved away to universities or yards of their own, I’ll have a full blown potager of my very own.  But for now, I hope to live vicariously through my sister’s landscape.  When I shared my plan with her, she was hesitant, wondering if it was too late to plant.  With a garage full of boxes, I’m sure a potager was not at the top of her to-do list.  But I was undeterred.

“Of course it’s not too late to start your kitchen garden!”

Plenty of vegetables come to full production within a short season.  Look for seed packets listing maturity dates of less than 75 days.  If you planted today, you could be harvesting cucumbers, beans, peas, summer squash, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beets and radishes throughout August and September.  Some cool season seeds, such as peas, benefit by being planted later for a cool fall harvest.  By purchasing nursery plants, you can still enjoy homegrown tomatoes as well.  And that makes your first French potager, tres bien!  

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