Gardening Through the Pandemic
April, when it was becoming clear I’d be staying close to home for several
months, at least, I thought about what to plant. I love gardening, but we
usually travel for a couple of weeks or more in the summer, and I’ve gotten in
the habit of growing plants that can endure some neglect. This year, however,
I’d be home and able to tend my plants daily.
I live, people were slow to recognize the severity of the pandemic and
reluctant to wear a mask, and early on, when we had little knowledge of how the
virus was transmitted, I feared going to the garden center. So, like half of
America, I went to order seeds online and found that I was already in the
territory of “back orders” and “sold out.” The seeds I finally did get were
unreliable: some tomato seeds took a month to germinate, even in prime potting
conditions, some of the green bean seeds never came up, and one “Italian
green” squash created beautiful, abundant vines and leaves and one large
green beans and other varieties of squash were in the big beds my husband dug
and filled in during the first couple of months at home, beds in our sunniest
places with rows and hills of plants meant to produce produce. My gardening, in
our mostly shady yard, has shifted to large pots on the sunny patio, and I
generally enjoy buying flats of whatever flowering plants strike my fancy that
year in coordinating colors and varied shapes and textures. The other half of
the patio is herbs—basil for caprese salads, along with parsley, chives,
oregano, thyme, and rosemary.
to go shopping and risk my and my husband’s health, unable to get all the seeds
I wanted online, I mostly made do with seeds I’d saved, plants I’d overwintered,
what I found in the yard, and what came up on its own.
saved basil seeds from earlier years, and garlic chive seeds as well. I ordered
way too much parsley seed and found that it did well in pots but not so much in
the ground. The oregano had overwintered, and in three pots nestled together in
a wagon has made a kind of elevated hedge. Rosemary starts are easy, so I got
several going and transplanted them into pots.
A geranium that made it through the winter indoors moved outside to hang from a beam, and the begonias that nestled in a windowbox pot next to the house decided it was their moment to bloom, big. Happiest of all were the coleus, which had started from shoots my hairdresser gave me in February when I admired her healthy plants. She cautioned me quickly not to thank her for them or they wouldn’t grow, so I didn’t. I haven’t gotten a haircut since then, but I think of her every day as I admire the three-feet-tall, lime-green plants, with tiny white blossoms that attract hummingbirds. Similarly, I have several new gardenia plants that I started from cuttings from a plant that overwintered outdoors.
We live in the woods, so there are growing things everywhere. I found some small nandina bushes and transplanted two into big blue-glazed ceramic pots for symmetry. A few plants I dug up at the edge of the woods just appealed to me for their color or shape, although I have no names for them, and as I surveyed the yard I found a tiny shoot from a fig tree my stepdaughter had given me several years ago. It had just barely survived in that spot, but I put the little rescued sprout into a huge pot and suddenly it was growing like nobody’s business.
been a time of volunteers, and I had plenty of those in my pots as well: the
perennial pink salvia I first bought at the University of Alabama Arboretum’s
annual spring plant sale years ago, an event I always loved because I connected
with gardening friends I rarely saw otherwise; black-eyed Susans that come up
in the yard and now live abundantly in pots as well; the sprightly, purple-blue
torenia and stately, yellow-flowered nicotiana a friend gave me from her garden
in years past; a cantaloupe vine that came up in a pot last year from composted
soil, and then reappeared this year, producing only a single golf-ball sized
green fruit, but lots of pretty yellow flowers. The same friend who gave me the
torenia and nicotiana gave me a moonflower plant this year, and I’ve loved
having its gorgeous white flowers, with a delicate scent, right next to the
door. I’ll save those seeds for next year.
marigold seeds that came in the mail did do beautifully, planted in the pots
with the tomato seedlings that finally started growing, producing late-summer
cherry and pear tomatoes. I wrote this poem about them, in response to a prompt
from a poetry discussion group I’m in:
was the marigolds
a blazing August morning
the same soil.
dragonfly, black and sleek,
returning to the same
is the soul
a dead relative.
not sure who
a certain day
I stepped outside
they had done
themselves to perfection
this poem, I express a sense of connectedness that I feel to nature and to
people, living and dead. This season of life, this pandemic year, has reminded
me how connected I am through plants to so many people, and of how seeds and
plants take their own time and their own course. Even as I pick green tomato
hornworms off my tomato plants and lament the damage they’ve done, I marvel at
their ability to blend in with the plant’s structure and color, and when I read
about them to remind myself which moth these caterpillars become (it’s variously
known as the sphinx moth or five-spotted hawk moth), I learn that, unbeknownst
to me, their pupae survive the winter underground. I have to admire that kind
of perseverance. I’m thinking, now, what to plant when cooler weather arrives.