Growing pumpkins in our raised garden beds frustrates me every year. The baby gourds usually zoom to a snazzy start, forming fat little knobs until they’re the size of ping-pong balls. Then most of the meager crop shrivels or dies on the vine. A few of the survivors, though, might turn into jumbo pumpkins and be mistaken for orange tennis balls.

I try to convince my family and readers that I’m intentionally aiming at a marketing niche: miniature, boutique pumpkins. These autumn gems would be perfect accents, I tell them, if stunted, yellowish squash ever come into vogue. Everybody catches the scam, of course.

Yet I persist, and every spring I ignore the past. This year, instead of taking only one shot at glory, I’m using two raised beds for pumpkins and decorative squash. I hoped to grow a couple of exotic varieties, but not even one Pink Princess seed germinated. I’m cautiously hopeful about the other varieties, though. Out in the patch, I can see a yellow striped squash, an orange Lakota squash with green stripes, three young pumpkins, a pure yellow squash and a dark green squash.

Considering my unfortunate horticultural past, it’s a near miracle that anything is big enough to be visible. Most of the vines still look perky, too, with dark green leaves and some blossoms, instead of doing their usual late summer fade. One showoff vine is eight feet long, but I’m still waiting for it to produce even one tiny pumpkin. Clock’s ticking toward Halloween, pal.

I’ve written about my bond with our new battery-operated lawn mower, but I’ll get no more buddy time with Mo until our grass recovers from its August sunburn. When the lull ends, I’m looking forward to introducing Mo to his cousin Moreen, our ancient push mower. Years ago I thought I could use her to cut the grass, so my husband could take an occasional Saturday off. But Moreen’s dull blades had to struggle even to chop off our invasive crabgrass. When she tried to decapitate the dandelions, those beasts let her bend their stems and then bobbed right up again, smirking.

Earlier this summer, I learned to recognize our yard’s tight spaces and awkward turns. The mower’s battery life is exactly two hours, after which it needs a few hours to recharge. Usually I can finish all three of our yards in 120 minutes, but I’ll run out of time if I find a patch or two of grass that I missed, or if I have to maneuver Mo backwards too often.

I was impatient about having to wait two hours for the battery to pep up again just so I could finish 10 more minutes of mowing. I rolled Moreen out of the garden shed, brushed off the cobwebs and pushed her onto the grass. She lacks Mo’s finesse, but she’s slender enough to turn around in narrow spaces, and her blades are just sharp enough to trim the spots I missed. Mo will always be my starter, but I’m thankful that Moreen can take care of the details at the end of the job.

This temporary break from lawn mowing has given me more time in the garden, and I’m making major progress on my summer project: removing clay, cultivating and adding compost to the soil in the front yard’s flower beds. I’m thankful that I’m still limber enough to wedge my kneeling pad, weed bucket, clay-hauling pail, small tools — and me — into small spaces among the plants. Being literally eye to eye with the perennials helps me see which plants need more sunlight and which need a heave-ho to the yard-waste pile.

I stirred up the wrath of my chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, when I dug up a widespread dragon’s beard plant. This aggressive hog (the plant, not my svelte and modest Maine coon cat) was blocking a burgundy rose bush and a mauve potentilla. When BBK realized I’d yanked out his favorite shady spot, he glared, flicked his tail and stalked away. I appreciated his restraint because in the past, he has expressed his displeasure in far less genteel ways.


Sydney Craft Rozen is glad she set the performance bar at ground level to measure the success of this year’s pumpkin patch. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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