It's good to talk poetry and ideas, but better sometimes to stand amid cornstalks eight feet high, tops hung with bean blossoms and roots shaded by broad squash leaves.
That's the Three Sisters in late July.
I planted the corn in this 12x10' patch on May 17, having double-dug the soil, a truly laborious process. Fortunately, my friend Tom stopped by to help that day, so the work went faster. We removed the top 18" of decent soil, then dug out 18" of clay beneath and hauled if off. Into the 3' trench that remained I returned the topsoil and amended it up to level with compost, well aged manure, and a fair bit of coarse sand. The result was deep well of excellent soil for the corn.
Four rows of corn sprouted by May 30, at which point I interplanted Italian pole beans along the center of the rows and Amish pie pumpkins along the back. In retrospect, I have learned I'll need to wait another week or two before planting the beans, as they were overwhelming the corn for a while, but things have turned out fine.
The pumpkin vines have naturally run along the base of the stalks and the beans have climbed the full height of the corn. Just today I noticed the corn plants are tasseling out, and blossoming bean vines have curled around those tips, two feet above my head. Many of the beans are already set and growing, and the squash are forming fruits. It's pretty intensive in there . . . .
I love to walk down the center row of this thriving patch and just soak it in. It's a forest of stored solar energy, soon to be converted into three distinct and delicious forms. I look forward to transfering that energy to my family and friends.
I'm reading Robert Pogue Harrison's book Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Early in the book he writes about urban gardens, noting, "One could say that these gardens visibly gather around themselves the spiritual, mental, and physical energies that their surroundings would otherwise dissipate, disperse, and dissolve."
Those "energies" include that of the sun solar and soil, as I've mentioned. He adds mental energy, and that makes sense. I know I am able to concentrate in my garden like nowhere else. Clearly, Harrison recognizes this as common for gardens, or more appropriately, for those who tend and visit them. In this space, especially in high summer, I have a refuge for thinking.
Spiritual energy—you're on your own there, and that's not a cavalier statement. You are rightly on your own to determine what spirit means, relative to gardens. In this regard, I like what Harrison has to say about the urge to garden.
One of these urges has to do with creating a pocket of repose in the midst of turbulence, a "still point of the turning world," to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot. A sanctuary of repose, however contrived it may be, is a distinctly human need, as opposed to shelter, which is a distinctly animal need . . . . Repose is a state of mind made possible by the structuring of one's relation to one's environment.
Creating repose is an art, one defined most clearly for me when that art feeds the body. Vegetable gardening is practical, and of course, necessary. In a city the size of the Denver metro area, it represents a conscious choice to work back against the grain of our standard food supply. The arguments for this activity are many, but in the end, one of the most valuable elements is that pocket of repose Harrison describes.
I appreciate the moment my garden is in, like a wave about to crest. The patience and planning is paying off, and the evidence is tangible (and tasty). I love looking at these two images, taken from roughly the same angle, only 10 weeks apart.
Harrison talks about the act of gardening is a mastery of the interplay between passivity and action—the idea of accepting the natural situations of weather and seasons, yet acting within the shifting patterns to bring about harmony and fruition. That's yin and yang, circling together as in the pa 'kua symbol. It's no coincidence that a few yards from the 3 sisters I have an herb garden shaped like this ancient Chinese symbol.
I spend a lot of time contemplating poetry and ideas, and am glad to have that opportunity. But it's also good to act. I would encourage anyone who reads this posting to find some way to make a garden space, even if it's a simple container planter on a patio or balcony. Grow something, and make a pocket of repose for yourself.
Check back again in a month or so to see the bounty of the 3 sisters.