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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Into the garden

Riding up an elevator at Albany Med last week, I noticed my traveling companion had a jar full of garden flowers.

“Where do you live?” I asked her. “Nothing is blooming up my way.”

That’s not exactly true. The daffodils are done and the lilacs and flowering crab apples are blooming. But lilacs are a little overpowering for a hospital room, and the crabs are at my neighbor’s house. My elevator companion was from Guilderland, and her bouquet was mostly flowering herbs, purple chive flowers and wild tarragon.

The chives in my garden are still in bud, but I picked some anyway last weekend, to dress out a tiny bouquet of purple catmint and the two last daffodils. I put them all in a little creamer for my dad, who is laid up with some broken ribs. I was hoping the chives would open before the daffodils faded, but the daffodils went first.

I’ve got bleeding hearts, pink and white, just starting to blossom in the garden in front of the house, and lots of irises getting ready to bud. I wish I had more flowers to bring to my dad, but I wish more that he’d get out of the hospital before everything is in bloom up north where I live.

If my flower gardens are late, the vegetable gardens are hardly even started. They are mostly large patches of brown, but to our eyes at least, that deep dark soil has a beauty of its own, the fecund promise of abundance yet to come.

This time of year is all about hopes and dreams and plans. “It’s going to be a good garden this year,” my husband says as we stand together one evening, admiring the neatly tilled sections of garden waiting to be planted, the corn that’s waiting to come up, and the lettuces almost ready for picking.

While I’ve been spending the past two weeks flying around like a bird — going to work, visiting my dad in the hospital, swinging out to Rhode Island to a family gathering in honor of a graduating niece — my husband’s been steadily making the gardens. He’s been spreading manure that’s so well composted it is already garden soil, then plowing, harrowing and finally tilling, making things ready.

Our season starts late, and even though we plan to spend this long holiday weekend in the garden, there’s a lot we can’t plant until the first days of June, a full week away. People were complaining about the weird weather when we had frost in mid-May, but that’s the norm for us.

May is fine for planting broccoli and cabbages, onions and potatoes, carrots and greens — lettuce, spinach, kale. But the tender things, the basil and tomatoes, the peppers and eggplants, have to wait for June. That’s when we’ll do our direct seeding too, of beans and cucumbers and squashes.

All the seedlings we started indoors are growing strong in the hot frame, a foot-high frame covered with a pane-glass window. The whole getup sits on top of a pile of not-so-composted manure (the heat source), which, in turn, is covered by garden soil.

If the nights are still cool in the first week of June, we’ll leave the most heat-loving plants — the peppers and eggplants — in the hot frame for another week to give them a boost. They won’t do much growing in cool soil anyway.

Some people look at our garden this time of year and see nothing. “Haven’t started planting yet?” they ask.

We look at the garden and see everything — the way the pumpkins will vine out into the lawn, the way the cucumbers will hide their long fruit under their leaves, the way the tomatoes will at some point overtake their cages or poles or climbing strings and topple to the ground.

Most of all we see the way we’ll be bringing in potatoes and carrots and green beans by the basket — peck and half bushel and bushel. The way we’ll be picking dinner right before we eat, and filling our freezer for next winter.

Gardeners are dreamers. And dreaming season is in full swing.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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