Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Crooked Little Garden in a Rented Space

Matt and I started renting our present home shortly before we got married two years ago. We didn't know then--and still don't know now--how long we'll be living in Knoxville, and so renting makes a certain kind of sense for us. However, any time that we're walking around the neighborhood, we look at people's houses and talk about what our house will be like when we move; I would like as little lawn as possible, and a sizable garden with a few beds of established perennials--rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries... Until then, we've decided to make the best of things at this present place, and got permission from our landlord to put in a small garden.
Cinder-block cilantro

I actually started planting things in our back yard before I even got permission. I thought that if I put in just a few plants here and there, the landlord wouldn't mind. Last spring, I put a couple salvaged drawers into the ground, along with some cinder blocks, and grew a couple pepper plants, basil, oregano, and one sad Mortgage Lifter tomato. It was an experimental kind of garden--I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't want to dig up too much of our yard (or ask the landlord for permission), but I wanted to grow something. Somehow, as the summer progressed into fall, the
number of drawers filled with dirt kept multiplying. My parents brought me a horseradish root, and I had to put it somewhere; then, I started volunteering at Beardsley, and decided that I wanted to plant collards--and they, too, had to be planted somewhere. Before knew it, I was preparing beds for next year's squash and tomatoes. Then, a friend gave us some seed garlic, and we built a small raised bed to plant it in; then, another small raised bed for the Egyptian walking onions. At the end of this past winter, I put in a small bed for peppers and a larger bed for kale and root vegetables (for which the neighbors donated unused masonry stones).
Just a couple months ago, I put in a small bed for beans after John Coykendall got me so excited about planting them. I'm also growing potatoes in a couple buckets, just to see if I can. We bought a small blueberry bush, and I'm growing cucumbers, dill, and loofahs along the fence. The patch of dirt in our front yard that had previously been overtaken by ivy now has sorrel, chamomile, cilantro, mint, and dill.
Clockwise from bottom left: horseradish, squash and onions, garlic, potato bucket, mystery tomato, oregano.
As I list everything, I realize just how much I've expanded our garden since last year--all in little increments. It's all a little crooked: the beds are not even, the stones (and even cinder blocks) are not level, and most of the drawers are starting to warp after a year of holding soil and water. I've had to put chicken wire on top of the bigger beds because the neighborhood cats like to use the loose soil as a litter box--thus, the beds look even more strange. But I love it nonetheless. It has taught me a few important lessons--that a garden does not have to be aesthetically pleasing to produce food; that even clay soil is fertile; that compost is indispensable; that I can make a garden with mostly found materials; and that it takes about a year to put in beds, amend the soil, and start an active compost pile. This all gives me hope that wherever we go next, whenever that happens, I will be able to grow something.


Alicia said...

I'm entirely envious of your garden! I too have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to gardening. First I started with mostly flowers and shade loving plants, and I did really well with those. After we got our tree cut down I started with some real beds, but I always manage to do something wrong...It doesn't help that our yard floods every time we get a good rain and floats my raised beds away! I never thought to plant in cinder blocks. I have a few laying around..Might give that a try.

zemmely said...

I think the thing with gardening is to treat everything as a learning experience--because, after all, there's always next year to try to get things better.
I have the opposite problem of you--our soil is clay and sand, so everything gets compacted and dry very fast.
Also: the key to planting in cinder blocks is to bury them at least half-way in the ground, and to plant herbs. My peppers were miserable in them last year!