The perfect garden, as any gardener knows, doesn’t exist in the lushness of August or even in the pristine early days of June. It exists only in January, in the mind of a grower thirsty for the new season’s greenery.
It’s the seed catalogs that start it, with their close-ups of quirky but beautiful produce grown on trial farms. It’s easy to imagine that the whole farm looks as lovely as that single head of lettuce or that wheelbarrow full of winter squash. But it’s easy to take pictures of pretty vegetables, and even those farmers — with considerably more resources and hands than we will have in the coming season — must find themselves fantasizing about neatly tilled weed-free fields growing nothing but picture-perfect produce.
It might sound nice at first blush, but I suspect we are, none of us, really capable of growing the perfect garden. Every weed plucked, every tomato perfectly staked, each succession yielding to the next with perfect timing… who could stand it? If I’ve got time to till and plant and weed and mulch and pick everything on my roster, it means I’m not trying hard enough. I should be growing more food, expanding into cut flower production, planting an orchard and raising small ruminants too. Obviously. Right?
I don’t know how much of this is unique to me (at times I have been surprised to find that the whole world doesn’t share my neuroses), but it seems we gardeners have a tendency towards ambition over contentment. We’re hardly alone; the indomitable human spirit has been keeping people up at night for all of history. A useful adaptation, sure, but also a damn pain. Perpetually discontented, except for the odd moment of satisfaction, we’re always pushing for something just a little bit better.
It bears mentioning that generations worth of enthusiastic progress got us into a whole lot of trouble. The little-bit-betters of the industrial revolution, with the best of intentions, have led to rising obesity, chronic illness, and a little thing called climate change. We don’t always know what’s best for us, on a global scale (wind energy or nuclear?) or a personal one (plastic mulch, or straw?). Every step forward is a gamble, but we’re all chronic gamblers, and there’s no stopping us.
Which is all to say: Happy New Year, friends. May your moments of satisfaction be many, may your aspirations be tempered with humility, and may your garden be a beautiful mess.