I envy those peoplewho have the patience to plant a garden to a theme. For years I imagined myself having the courage to create a monochrome garden. Of course, the most precious of all would be a "white garden" in the tradition of British novelist and poet Vita Sackville-West. However, the idea of looking out on an all white garden shimmering in the moonlight is an idle dream to me. Not that shimmering silver leaves and chalk pale petals would not be beautiful, but because I do not have the restraint required to control myself from stocking up on the whole pallet of colour that leaps off the pages of seed catalogues as I patiently while away the dark winter evenings.
The same is true of the vegetable garden. Why grow simple green beans when you can grown yard-long green beans and purple pod beans that turn green when you cook them? Variety is everything in a vegetable garden, along with little surprises and a touch of chaos. It is convenient to plant things in rows, but the rows don't have to run the same way.
I like a vegetable garden where I can be comfortable, so I want some fragrant nicotina and columbine there to greet me. And what could be more beautiful than a cascade of morning glories on the garden fence to watch while you are having breakfast and a lush row of 4 0'clock Marvel of Peru to open its blooms at tea time. A little organized confusion gives a garden some character.
However, gardening with a bull terrier gives confusion a whole new dimension. Wally seems to view every stage of gardening as something to be challenged.
When the roto-tiller roared to life, it must have appeared to be an outdoor version of the snarling dragon otherwise known as the vacuum cleaner. It took me two years of patience and perseverance to convince the dog that the vacuum is not some sort of soul sucking device, with a hose in need of puncturing.
The roto-tiller, with its churning tines and explosive gas engine, was much more threatening, requiring Wally to bark at it constantly and loudly. After a few clods of dirt flew in his eyes, Wally finally got the notion to stand back while attempting to render the roto-tiller silent. Good thing, too, because I did not want to have to bandage a mangled nose caught in the twisted steel that prepared the soil for planting.
There is something satisfying about looking over a cleared vegetable garden plot that has been worked with compost and manure and smoothed of clumps and bumps. All of that is disrupted when a bull terrier decides to turn it into a soccer playing field. Dirt flies, seams are gouged in the earth and when the dust settles, it settles on a dirty dog, who might just decide to have a serious roll in it for good measure.
Gardening should be a relaxing hobby. In my fantasy life, I wander through my garden wearing a long denim skirt, a flowing shirt and a straw bonnet. Like Mother Nature, my wicker basket brims with carrots and cauliflowers and radishes the size of a babies' fists. First, however, the garden must be planted. I have no fantasies about this. I bend over and shove the seeds in the ground one at a time, and I don't care much what I wear as long as it doesn't get in my way.
I was in just such a position, planting my third row of green peas when Wally the Wonder Dog began to take an interest in gardening. The seeds were small, but they were round and rather ball-like. He dug his nose into the hoed row where I had carefully laid out the little green pea seeds. Then he flung his entire body across the row to prevent me from covering the sacred round objects. He lay there, wearing what looked like a self-satisfied grin.
Fine, I got down on my knees and proceeded to pat soil over the seeds until reaching the dog carcass, which I moved much as one would a wheelbarrow by hoisting the hind legs and turning. Undeterred, Wally decided that a woman on a her knees needs a bull terrier around her shoulders.
This is pretty much the way the planting of the entire garden went. Sometimes whole packets of seeds were strewn accidentally when Wally burst through the garden with his soccer ball. I could see little green peas flying everywhere, and corn kernels and the occasional soft white zucchini seed. Any seed smaller than a green bean could have drifted anywhere. A plastic mesh fence around the garden was ineffective as anything except a hurdle. Wally "watered" the poles I had pounded in to mark the rows.
The resulting garden was a kind of a marvel that varied from disaster to brilliance. You could find a tossed salad in just about every row – radish here, cucumber there, here a romaine there an endive - that sort of thing. A whole row of snow peas flourished, with a couple of huge sunflowers dropped in for good measure. Squash and pumpkin vines wound their way around corn stalks. In some sections of the garden I transplanted nursery-bought egg plants, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. They looked quite organized until carrot and beet seeds began sprouting all around them. My friend Naomi called it "Birds Eye" – after company that first marketed frozen mixed vegetables.
If the method of its planting made the garden slightly inaccessible it also made it unconventionally easy to tend. I could not roto-till between the rows because the rows were not longer clear. So I laid down barn boards to make walkways, and piled old straw and grass clippings around plants that were in areas that were difficult to navigate. Sweet peas and scarlet runner beans grew up, over and around a blue wooden chair with a cracked seat that seemed to suit the garden. Although it appeared to have no rhyme or reason, in its absolute randomness there was character and sensibility.
When harvesting the bounty, I used a sort of search and pluck method. The result were many satisfying tin-foil wrapped packets of barbequed vegetables at dinner time. One baby squash, a handful of green beans, slices of onion, a perfect cob of corn and a sweet red pepper, all chopped into manageable pieces, spritzed with olive oil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and romanced with fragrant herbs makes a wonderful side dish to grilled lamb chops.
I think one year of total chaos in the vegetable patch is about all I can manage. To preoccupy Wally, a new soccer playing field has been created beside the garden, so that we can keep an eye on each other while maintaining a healthy distance. He knows that I will not begrudge him the occasional foray into garden, and I have found him rather useful at digging up potatoes. I have kept some of the planks to use as walkways through the garden in places where I do not want straight and narrow rows, and I definitely intend to throw some sunflower seeds around just to see where they sprout.
As a thanks to Wally for helping me learn to loosen up in the vegetable patch, I am planting some super-sweet Tom Thumb tomatoes that he can eat straight off the vine.
Vita Sackville-West would never approve of my less-than-subtle gardens, but in many ways we are quite alike because we both adore arranging things in dirt. Vita once wrote that: "The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something for the good of the world." I imagine Wally felt that way, too.