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A Gardener’s Seasons and the Joy of Starting Over

Alyssa Goldstein
September 12, 2012

[caption id=“attachment_12019” align=“alignright” width=“300”] spring on the author’s windowsill[/caption]
by Alyssa Goldstein
I AM A GARDENER. I don’t garden just because it’s fun (though it is) and produces delicious rewards (though it does). I have to garden, perhaps in the same way that other people have to create art or make music or go running. It is simply what I do. When I’m not thinking about anything in particular, I invariably think about gardening.
To me, one of the most comforting things about gardening is the way it divides the year into its own seasons, each with their own pleasures and difficulties. The four seasons we know become innumerable — strawberry season, garlic season, winter squash season (not to mention Japanese Beetle season and blossom end-rot season). The length and arrival of these seasons vary from year to year, which lends an air of anticipation to everything. I anxiously await the first snowdrops, the first ripe tomatoes, the first apples at the farmstands. Everything good whose season passes gives way to another long-awaited arrival.
I went to college in the mid-Hudson valley region, where the winters are long. In Maine, where I do most of my vegetable gardening these days, the winters are even longer. I don’t mind the fact that I can’t garden year-round, as I could if I lived in, say, California. I think I would even find that tiresome. It’s nice to have a time when the snow-covered garden is like a blank page to project your dreams onto from the comfort of a warm sofa. This is seed-catalog season, of course, where I gaze on the glossy photographs of huge, healthy vegetables unmarred by the insects, disease, and weather calamities which I will invariably have to battle throughout the growing season. In the garden of the imagination, though, I have unlimited space, perfect soil, gently-falling rain at just the right intervals, and the phrase “powdery mildew” is absent from both my vocabulary and my squash plants.
[caption id=“attachment_12027” align=“alignleft” width=“83”] “My Jewish Nature #3” by Lawrence Bush[/caption]

BY EARLY MARCH I always begin to get restless. This year was no exception, which is why you would have found me on the hill behind my dorm, scratching up the rocky soil with my fingernails to fill up my flowerpots. I planted basil and cilantro seeds and watched them grow on my windowsill. During spring break, I went up to Maine and sowed the seeds which could withstand cold in the recently-thawed soil. Beets, peas, carrots, radishes, spinach, string-beans, chard — all laid in the ground with numb fingers.
By mid-April, the greenhouses and nurseries have set out their vegetable seedlings. This is a dangerous time for me, wrought with temptations even more acute than those presented by the seed catalogs. This past April, I went to the famous farm market Adams in Kingston, just for a little grocery shopping — or so I thought. After picking out my favorite interestingly-shaped pastas and perhaps half a cart-full of wasabi nori snacks, I made the fateful decision to wander over to the garden center. Just for a little look around, nothing more. Of course, I hadn’t been counting on The Smell. The moment I walked in, I was assailed by the perfume of moist soil warmed under the greenhouse roof, the spicy aroma of newly-sprouted tomato leaves, the fresh peppery smell of the broccoli and kale mingling together with the richness of the potted rosemary and basil and a thousand other tiny growing plants until it formed a fragrance that seemed the very essence of Spring itself. There is no resisting The Smell. Tiny dorm room and already-crowded windowsill be damned, there was no way I was walking out of there without some veggie seedlings — that is, once I could muster the fortitude to walk out of there at all. Ultimately, a four-pack of hot chiles found their home in a newly-purchased pot squeezed in next to the basil.
The summer is coming to an end soon. When I left my garden in Maine last week, the basil seeds I had planted on my windowsill and planted in one of the vegetable beds had grown into tall plants whose leaves I clipped for my pasta. The chile peppers that The Smell had enticed me into buying were sporting tiny red fruits. If my butternut squash and pumpkins hadn’t been decimated by my arch-nemesis Powdery Mildew, I’d have some of those pretty soon, too. In a few short months the garden will be covered in snow again, and then it’ll be time to start over.