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The garden at Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast is also tended with reverence The garden at Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast is also tended with reverence

Coming to the garden

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. If these words sound familiar perhaps you have sung this old hymn, as I sing while I open the gate. Entering the garden is like entering a place of worship; you do so respectfully.

We are profoundly lucky to live near a creek junction where the creeks have carved through much of the clay bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula and replaced it with alluvial deposits. Twelve thousand years of creek meanders, with the attendant sand bars and tumbled cobbles; 12,000 years of silt-catching beaver ponds; 12,000 autumns of alder leaves have created a deep chocolate brown soil.

Ours has been a working vegetable garden since 1912. Mountains of cow, horse, chicken, goat and pig manure dug into a cleared alder thicket has produced garden soil full of humus and so friable, it could be dug with your bare hands. It is so rich and naturally moist that seeds have abundantly germinated from last summer’s neglected heads of dill, poppy, sunflower, spinach.

We plant our garden in stages. Around the first of spring—new moon and easy to remember date—tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, basil and zinnias are planted in flats. By April, the seedlings have been transplanted into small pots and commandeer every south- and east-facing window. Flower seeds are sprinkled into the flats. Early May, the upper part of the garden is dry enough to cultivate and onions, peas, spinach, carrots, radishes are planted. By mid-May, most of the seedlings—I was beginning to regret  the successful germination of so many cosmos, zinnias, marigolds—are transplanted to bigger pots and hauled out to a cold frame. The broccoli and cauliflower are taken out of pots and planted into their plot. Eight rows of spuds are carefully patted into place.

Once the broccoli is set out and the spinach germinating, the five strand electric wire fence is erected and the big arched gates brought out of storage. Now the deer can only graze on the crocus and hyacinth.  The soil is warm enough in early June to plant beans and squash. The tomatoes, peppers and all those flowers are growing too big for pots and are transplanted into the real world.

This well-chosen garden site, with its fertile soil and abundant sunshine provided by the creek junction location, has one drawback. Cold air flows down slope.

For some reason, perhaps known only to God, the full moon on a clear night will summon icy breezes.  It was cloudy and rainy when we went to bed around 11pm and so we figured the early June full moon brought no threat. Around 3 am—I must have heard the tomatoes moaning—I awoke and saw a moon glittering like a newly-minted dime in a cloudless sky. Jumping out of a warm and cozy bed, we scrambled to the garden. By the dim ray of our head flashlights, we placed buckets, baskets, pots, plastic, and tarps over 158 tender plants.

The early June weather pattern of cloudy, cool days, followed by bright clear nights, gave me time to contemplate why the hell I planted so many flowers. Four days of removing 158 covers and four nights of replacing the 158 seemed a lot of extra work.

Ah, but today—with marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, tomatoes and peppers flowering, basil and nasturtiums forming big leaves—every bit of frost protection effort is worth the price. Tasty spinach and radishes are harvested daily, with promise of peas, then early red potatoes in the near future.

One of the finer things in life is to be in the garden at sunrise. The morning choir is stirring and fills the air with song. Yellow warbler and warbling vireo are warbling as they move about the weeping willow. Swainson’s thrush flute arias rise from the coniferous hillsides. Catbirds carry on in the hawthorn thicket. Veery song descends from streamside alder. Swallows chatter from the phone line. Flicker taps on power pole, cedar waxwings buzz and robins, siskens, chickadees provide a continuous musical background.

The garden is a place where true communication between human and nature is possible.  People climb mountains to experience this connection, yet nowhere else but a garden opens the path to an acceptance and understanding of nature. The gardener enters a 10,000 year old tradition of working with soil, sun, water and the soul of a seed to provide the essence of life—food and beauty.

Thus it is with reverence and on my knees that I tenderly care for our garden.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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