Last fall I decided to participate in a national growing experiment called, The Great Canadian Garlic Collection, wherein hundreds, possibly thousands of gardening nerds are growing garlic, recording their results, and then pooling the data so we can all find out which varieties grow best under varying conditions. Believe me when I say that it is all VERY important work and I have taken my role as a participant very seriously. In fact I am taking it all so seriously that it has forced me to change my evil, too-open-to-suggestion-and-last-minute-changes ways by making a garden plan.
Last fall, when the garlic arrived in the mail, I knew I would not be able to do what I usually do which is just stick it wherever it will grow and forget about it until spring. I had to keep track of the garlic, the varieties I am growing, and then record my observations over the span of two years. For the first time ever I needed a serious plan. A plan that can’t be changed on a whim. A plan committed to paper.
And so I decided to make an experiment out of this experiment. I decided to try growing a slightly more formal garden at my community plot than is my way. My way is generally one based on informal companion planting. I grow plants in groupings that work, share, look gorgeous, and love together but I don’t get hung up on formally arranging things. I enjoy a bit of organization and try to keep chaos at bay in other areas of my life, but since the gardens aren’t so much my spaces anymore as they are work spaces, I try to leave a little space for serendipity to take hold. I do not use rulers or string. I do not mark space. I do not make a design on paper that can then be implemented in the earth.
But like I said all of that had to change with the introduction of the very important garlic. And so I set about making a plan last fall. I came up with a design and I set to blocking off the garden using sticks and string as markers. I planted the garlic, recorded its locations, drew in the herbs and perennials, finishing off with carefully marked blobs for spring plantings.
And then in a telling Freudian slip, at the very moment I needed to place my early spring seed orders, I lost the plan. My subconscious did not want to be told it can only grow 4 tomato varieties. My subconscious was gonna grow those ‘Chocolate Cherry’ sunflowers formal plan be damned! I searched high and low but it was gone for good. I went ahead and ordered the seeds without the plan.
In the end it wasn’t a big deal, although as always I have far more seeds than I can grow. The overall layout was still marked off with string at the garden. Garlic sprouts have emerged from the soil with accompanying tags indicating the varieties. The perennials are marking their space, leaving me with empty pockets to fill with the seedlings I started under lights a month or so ago.
And despite the formality there is still plenty of space for serendipity and last minute inspiration. When I went to do clean up on the garden last week I had the impulse to build a sculptural trellis to grow peas and beans on. I am overstocked on attractive pea varieties and thought it would be nice to grow them in the community plot this year. The community garden is surrounded by weed trees that require aggressive pruning every year less we lose sunlight to the garden entirely. I used some of those prunings to build a gnarly tripod trellis, reinforcing it with woven branches at the base. I’m rather fond of it. It is going to look gorgeous covered in peas, if the groundhog doesn’t get to them first!