On the first sunny weekend after the last frost date in southern New England I brought a flat of seedling six packs to my community garden plot, ready to plant them. It was a garden clean-up day, and my fellow gardeners were bagging last autumn’s leaves and planting flowers and cleaning out the tool shed. Some folks were spreading fertilizer on their eight by eight foot plots and others were constructing trellises. But I was the only one who showed up with seedlings, perhaps a bit anxious to start the season. First I spread around a bag of organic fertilizer and dug it into the top layer of soil. That was the hard part. Planting was the easy stuff, I knew from previous seasons – surprisingly fast and not nearly the effort of wielding a shovel or rake. I grabbed a trowel and was ready to work.
But then I surveyed my plot and realized that I didn’t yet know where I was going to plant the lettuce, which would need shade in a month to keep thriving, or if I was going to change the location of the chard and kale from the previous season. Did I want to keep the herbs in the same corner? What about the onion sets I purchased on a whim? Suddenly my quick start to my garden was heavy with potential complications and consequences. I had to make some decisions, and make them with conviction. At the same time I laughed a bit at myself as well. In past seasons I had drawn multiple versions of possible garden maps, had researched companion planting in books from the library, had arrived at the garden on the first day of the season with a plan. But this year I was a bit distracted.
Sleeping in the carriage taking up much of the walkway between my plot and those in the next row was my newborn baby boy. He was almost six weeks old by birth, but a preemie; my initial due date was another week away. He had arrived early, a surprise that threw my planned and calibrated final weeks of my pregnancy into chaos. I had my semester of teaching to finish, projects with due dates that weren’t so flexible, his room to set up. Plus I had intended to do a bit more reading about what I should expect with the labor, and more so, the first few weeks and months of actually having a child. He arrived well outside any plan that existed, and left me with little time to improvise.
But, as he spent his first few weeks of life in the hospital, I had time between visits and tying up loose ends to cobble together some sense of what it would be like to have him home. I read a book on parenting and asked friends and family – and the kind nurses and doctors I was spending an awful lot of time with at the NICU – for advice. Most of what they told me was to trust my intuition. Babies don’t need a fully stocked room with matching curtains and sheets. My only job was to keep him fed and clean and comfortable. It really was intuitive, if I would stop overthinking; he would let me know if something was needed, and I merely had to go down the checklist to figure out what it was. He had entered life outside of any plan I had concocted, and then arrived home amidst only a sketchy framework of what I should be doing. Just keep him fed and comfortable. Put him to sleep on his back and change his diaper when needed. People with less preparation had raised fine and happy kids for millennia.
With his arrival, it was perhaps unsurprising that I was eager to continue my new beginnings at the garden. New life was inspiring, and after a few summers full of travel and work, this season was to be the first in awhile that I could really focus on the garden, long lazy days spent in the afternoon sun, perhaps a sleeping boy in the shade nearby.
The boy was stirring, and I was beginning to decipher his rhythms and noises. I likely had little time to finish planting before he’d need to be fed and changed. So I quickly assessed the plot – I knew it well, I had been doing this for many seasons – and made some decisions. I put up the bean trellises in the back corner, and planted my rows of chard, kale, and broccoli rabe near where I had before, but closer to one edge of the plot. Tomatoes would stay in the back where their shade would affect the least real estate; herbs would stay in the front for easy access, and to be close to the perennial mint. Onions in the back corner near the garlic would leave the center of the plot for whatever else I decided to plant next. I didn’t have to plan it all out now, I realized. And wherever things ended up in the plot, they’d likely grow with a little water and weeding. The point was just to make a decision and move forward. I would never have all of the information, and if I waited until I had done all of the research, I would have missed countless days of sun and rain. So much is learned by doing, and I knew more than I realized. More about nurturing and growing than I could ever learn from a book.