My Darwinian Garden

Sarah - Strasburg, Virginia
Entered on September 9, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: nature, place
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Looking over my garden on Labor Day, I was filled with a sense of contentment and wonder. Other gardeners might not share my satisfaction, should they be held responsible for the one thousand square feet of tangled bank that is my little piece of earth, but that doesn’t bother me. So what if the squash bugs moved in three weeks ago, leaving only limp yellow leaves in their wake? I had plenty of zucchini in July. A wild morning glory vine has invaded the tomato patch, but I planted too many tomatoes anyway and there are still enough pink brandywines and yellow pears and cherries to satisfy my needs. I believe in Darwinian gardening, and it suits me just fine.

I began in spring with great enthusiasm, turning earth, pulling weeds, and scattering seeds liberally. My intention to mulch was defeated by scarcity of time and resources, so my seeds found themselves struggling in a world that, while not inhospitable, also was not shaped to their needs. The lettuces loved it—springing up in gourmet profusion, romaines and oak leaves and spotted deers tongues, and I ate like a queen until the scorching sun of July withered them. The peas adapted well enough—I had peas in my spring stir fry and my freezer will keep me in good supply for winter, if I don’t get greedy. The spinach—well, let’s just say that the conditions of my garden selected against it.

With summer, I might have tended the garden, removing undesirables, nurturing the tomatoes and squashes and peppers and beans and corn, providing water when the rain didn’t fall and harvesting the bounty at the moment of peak ripeness. I wanted to. I even went out a few times. But the world, at least in my garden, doesn’t work that way. I got busy. I picked squash when I could—we ate squash for weeks!–but I didn’t worry too much when the bugs arrived. I was grateful. It didn’t matter that my melons acquired the characteristic taste of cucumbers. I may not have been so overwhelmed by my produce that I had to give it away, but neither did I lack a vegetable to put with dinner.

Now fall has come, and my garden is winding down. I haven’t had time to weed for weeks. The successful competitors are as tall as I am, and while the tomatoes still produce as much as I need or want, it is an adventure to find where they have wandered. When I approach with my basket, I spend as much time investigating the community of beetles and butterflies that have taken over as I do filling it with edibles. Just this morning I met a snake, no more than a foot long and the thickness of a pencil, who regarded me for a moment with coolly flickering tongue before going about his business.

I don’t mind—enough survived, and there is grandeur in the tangled wilderness that remains.