I hate to go philosophical on you again, but to me, gardening is philosophical. Nature is philosophical. Life is philosophical. That’s why my two of my favorite horticulturists, Felder Rushing and Steven Chamblee, are also two of my favorite philosophers. I’m overly aware that manic Master Gardeners and anal academics can be hypersensitive about yellow leaves, brown patches, and green lawns; but in the big scheme of things, having drip irrigation or slow release forms of nitrogen with micronutrients won’t make you happy. Life is a mind game. Horticulture is a mind game. Gardening should be like a trip to the grocery store. Pick out the things you like and take them home. Don’t fret about not liking licorice, the price of Wagyu, or the home wrecking neighbor you spotted. Go home and eat cherries and see if you can spit the pits into the sink from across the room.
2020 has been quite a year. But in nature, every year is quite a year. Feast, famine, flood, fecundity; it’s always something. Roll with the punches and make cabbage rolls and roll in the hay while you are doing it.
As if I don’t think enough (remember I commute a total of three hours each day), last month really got me thinking. There were friends with COVID-19, a tragic local car wreck that took the lives of four kids and two families, deaths in my wife’s family, a beloved Master Gardener’s death, and a projected “direct hit” scare from powerful Hurricane Laura. And though Nature Boy loves to flit in the woods with the swallowtails, business has to be taken care of. So off to the lawyer I went to make a last will and testament. Folks, it a pain in the aster when you leave a mess behind with no legal will. So I put things in order, the best I knew how. I do need to provide more instructions however. When my sister-in-law asked, I told her that if I couldn’t get outdoors or at least to a window again; pull the plug! This guinea pig wasn’t made for a cage. I’d rather fly into the flame than sit in the dark.
Nature really is the best teacher. Whether you are a Master Gardener or a Master Naturalist, it doesn’t take long to figure out that death is a part of life. They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. So accept it. Every plant will die. Every animal will die. Every person will die. Grow down swinging.
We all know that the Grim Reaper rakes his scythe over Texas each summer. It’s a trying time in itself. It’s really no different from COVID or a hurricane. It’s about survival and revival. So instead of focusing on brown leaves and brown thumbs, I find comfort in knowing how happy my dormant oxblood lilies are each summer and that without a summer baking they wouldn’t explode back to life with the first fall rains.
Here are your choices:
1. This plant spends all spring and summer devoid of flowers and foliage. It only blooms for a few days or weeks each year. The flowers are small. They have no fragrance. They produce nothing to eat. You can’t cut off the floppy foliage during the winter. And frankly, they are less than attractive as they go dormant.
2. This plant requires no soil prep, water, fertilizer, pesticide, staking, deadheading, or division. It lives forever and will be alive when you are dead. The flowers are the most vivid glowing red you can imagine. And they bloom like magic signaling the end of heat and hell and the beginning of fall and flowers.
You have multiple choices. You can choose number 1, number 2, both, or neither. I choose door number 2. They make me happy. They make me remember each year that no matter how bad things are, they will get better. They remind me that out of darkness comes light; out of sorrow, joy; out of death, life.
It’s important that you leave something behind after you are gone, whether it be money, land, happiness, beauty, genetics, or inspiration. Plants know this. It’s hardwired into them. They wouldn’t think of leaving the world worse than they found it. Their goal is to help the next one get started.
My annual crop of peas is a prime example. This year I grew Mississippi Pinkeye Purple Hull and Cream #40 because that’s what my momma likes to eat, freeze, and serve. Pea seed is relatively cheap, they are fairly easy to grow, they are high in protein and fiber, and it’s easy to save your own seed if you like. They also fix nitrogen when they die to add it back to the soil along with the organic matter they produced that year. We pick and eat all the fresh ones and then before mowing them down and plowing them under, I pick all the dried ones that were missed and save them for seed for a future crop or to soak, cook, and eat during the winter if need be. Peas are the model citizen. They grow easily without being demanding, never complain about the heat, help feed those around them while they are alive, and leave something behind both in the soil and in helping to feed more people in the future.
Peas are both inspiration and perspiration. Thoreau found that out with his beans. Bean there, done that. Death is inevitable. It can either be fast or slow. Sometimes you have control over it and sometimes you don’t. In the words of Hank Williams Jr., “If it will it will, if it won’t it won’t.” Don’t be upset that your peas die. Revel in the experience of being able to plant them, grow them, and hopefully eat them. Ponder how they got from Africa to your garden. Take time to watch the wasps pollinate the soft lavender or buttery yellow flowers. Enjoy watching the ladybugs eat the aphids on them. Marvel as you unzip them and watch them collect in your shelling pan. And if Bambi finds his way in to eat them, be happy that even though your grandkids don’t like peas, somebody does. It’s all good. Compost happens. Don’t mess it up.