In this season of parched grass and wildfire smoke, I’ve kept the flowers blooming in my garden. Last summer, I felt so overwhelmed by the shadow of the coronavirus that I stopped watering my flowers at the end of July and let their petals turn crackly and brown. Now I can look out our kitchen window and see pink, white and cherry-colored phlox, gold rudbeckia, purple canterbury bells, and red-splotched yellow coreopsis, ready to greet passerby. I can walk past a raised bed in the backyard and catch the spicy-sweet fragrance of the last of the sweet peas, still clinging to their trellis. I’ve also revived the flower garden in the tiered bed my husband, Lee, built for me, by pinching off bloomed-out flowers to encourage new buds on purple sage and red gaillardia, and adding fall accents of burgundy, gold and bronze chrysanthemums. Consistent watering and finding my way out of last year’s fog has brought color and joy back to my Church of Dirt and Flowers.
The news from our vegetable garden, though, is downright embarrassing. I remember gloating last month that the two dozen artichokes, growing from a single plant, were surely destined for a date with melted butter and aioli. Instead, earwigs infested them, and iridescent purple blooms appeared too soon on their spiky heads. Early flowering stunted the baby artichokes’ growth and made their leaves inedible. I also don’t understand why no amount of water or fertilizer has made a difference with our carrots and fennel, even after Lee set up water-conserving soaker hoses in our raised beds. The fennel plants and carrots have dawdled all summer and are still so spindly that the neighborhood rabbit has deleted us from its map of garden tours.
I’m not ready to write about my pumpkins yet, because I’m afraid I might jinx them. The risk is real. One of the varieties I’m growing is named for Bellatrix Lestrange, the beautiful but vicious witch in the magical Harry Potter series. None of my three Bellatrix plants has produced even a tiny pumpkin yet, and they might be vengeful enough to flap a leaf and hex the rest of the patch.
During my break from writing this column, Lee and I made our first trip to the west side in more than two years, visiting beloved family members north of Seattle and attending my nephew’s wedding in a park-like garden in Bellingham, Wash. My 95-year-old mother, tiny and frail, but as vivacious and whip-smart as ever, escorted her grandson, the bridegroom, down the aisle. The wedding guests applauded.
A month away from my desk also gave me time to observe my chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, maturing — and I use the term with irony — as a mentor to Marlon, the semi-feral cat I feed every day. Benjamin teaches by example, using a calculated strategy that’s deceptively simple. How hard could it be to sprawl in a garden bed? Marlon needed intensive training to learn the nuances of his guru’s technique: First, BBK pinpoints the most densely planted area in my garden. Then he uses gravity and the power of his glutei maximi (he resents the common term, “fat butt,”) to roll over and squash the highest possible number of plants per square foot. Marlon scored four failed sprawls before he flattened my delphiniums and earned a paws-up salute from the master.
Craft Rozen saw maple leaves glowing red in the afternoon sunlight this week and knew her favorite season is coming. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org