July 11, 2020 7:54:47 PM
It's true, the old adage that gardening is good for us, and one of the upsides of Covid-related restrictions is that I've had ample opportunity to give it more practice.
Even small efforts pay off. You know, fresh air, calorie burning, vitamin D and serotonin boosts, connecting with Nature, improved mental acuity and emotional wellbeing, maybe even harvesting a little homegrown goodness. Just tending a potted plant connects and relaxes.
Not that I've turned into a dedicated mini-farmer; had enough of that as a kid. Until recently I've mostly just stuck a few pepper and okra plants in with flowers and hope they produce something other than just prettiness.
For over 20 years I've stuck with this "kitchen garden" approach, a mixed potager of flowers, herbs and vegetables. It's easy, productive, requires few tools and looks good.
Besides, for over a decade I've lived overseas for the entire summer, making it impractical to plant stuff I wouldn't harvest. Ditto for tending a lawn; I no longer have one because I'm usually too gone to mow.
This year, however, is different; because of travel restrictions, I have the opportunity and time to dabble with summer vegetables. Trying to see if this horticulturist is more than just book learning. I can talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?
Most newbies I see these days, raised in an era of declining interest in traditional gardening and having little time or inclination to garden in earnest, are experimenting in soil-filled pots and boxes, often in their front yards as a sort of a badge of camaraderie.
So, this summer I'm doing the same. Instead of my previous approach of planting edibles only as miscellaneous landscape plants, sticking a few culinary herbs and veggies in flowerbeds and hoping they would survive on their own 'til late summer, this spring I actually planted a horticultural ratatouille of vegetables that need tending and regular harvesting.
I cobbled together and painted a long, narrow raised bed and well-spaced bamboo teepees (also painted) for climbing beans. In between I alternated small patches of corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, squash, zucchinis and eggplant, plus butterfly-attracting zinnias everywhere.
And it has largely worked. As a friend said, "the ratatouille is in the pot," so I've begun combining my small harvests with my homegrown herbs and already-harvested garlic, plus some store-bought onions, in a sizzling pan of olive oil. And I feel as good as it tastes.
By the way, for a good general guide for growing vegetables in Mississippi, check out MSU Extension Service's Garden Tabloid, a bottom-line source of Mississippi-specific information on all things vegetables. Find it by going online at msucares.com and typing Garden Tabloid in the search box.
Anyway, my little garden has bestowed an extra dab of daily purpose, helped keep me on level ground, inspired me with something to think about besides the nonstop salvos of news about politics and pandemics.
And, not surprisingly, it has improved both my diet and waistline; eating a little better and working just a little each morning has helped me lose a dozen pounds (!!), which in turn has helped ease the mental and emotional toll of being cooped up at home.
And because in the South we can garden year-round, there's plenty of time to replant when it's done. So, though I am in the midst of my first harvest, I'm already planning for autumn.
Without exactly pining for the cool climate of my English garden, I do wish it wasn't so humid here that admiring my garden has to be done through sweat dripping from my brow.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]