Toni asked in the comments a few entries ago if I would write about gardening in Colorado. I avoided it for a while, because the weather was so lovely and warm that I just couldn’t bear facing the truth of being a gardener here, in the cruel Rocky Mountains. But today it snowed and tonight a freeze will probably kill all the fuzzy new buds on my peach tree, thereby robbing us of peaches. So now I’m in the right frame of mind. Here, for your “pleasure” (for lack of a better word) is a step-by-step tale of a garden in Colorado.
March/April (depending on when the weather first turns warm and how ambitious you are) – our intrepid horticulturist heads out to the plot of land that will soon harbor her beloved plants. Visions of heirloom tomatoes, charming in their lumpy uniqueness, dance in her head. A small smile plays across her lips as she toys with the idea of placing a few flowers among the pepper plants, simply because they’ll be pretty there. She jabs the tip of the shovel into the soil and here she encounters her first problem. Either the ground is too wet or too dry. If it’s too wet, she can manage to pierce the soil, no problem. But she knows, given the amount of clay in the Colorado soil, that if you work wet dirt you end up with rock-like chunks of dirt. All summer long these sullen clods will resist hoe and spade and choke the roots of baby plants with their heavy intractability. On the other hand, if that clay-ey dirt has dried too much, it is basically a slab of adobe. Chip at it all you like, you aren’t turning it into a garden any time soon.
Well, fine. She lightly waters it or waits for a sunny day to dry it sufficiently. Finally, FINALLY, one bright day the dirt is perfect for digging. She digs. And digs and digs. Mixing in huge quantities of compost and pitching aside rocks, she sweats and toils and knows it will all be worth it. Before the day is over she has tidy furrows in the dirt, each layered with that soft, dark, damp compost and lined with a row of seeds. She looks at them in satisfaction.
Days pass and one morning our gardener discovers one –no wait, two! Tiny plants breaking through the soil. There’s another, and another! This is so exciting! Over the next few days she comes out to the garden often, thrilled to see that each row is positively bristling with new plants.
Then one morning as she’s walking into the kitchen she glances sleepily out the window to note that it’s snowed.
She runs to look at her garden, but now it’s a winter scene. She curses snow and cold and meteorologist who never seem to know what’s going to happen, damn their overpaid hides.
But it does no good. Her tender, pale green shoots have crumpled under the snow. They lie on the ground, black and limp. Dead.
So she re-plants. If she’s wise she waits until after Mother’s day, the only date real Coloradoans trust for putting out cold-tender plants. She goes to the garden center to buy tomato and pepper plants. She commiserates with other gardeners, and then bravely plants out her garden. And sure enough, the snow is gone (95% of the time), and the weather is warm.
A few days later she goes out to see her new plants slumping against their stakes. They are pale and dusty looking.
It is, after all, 90 degrees outside.
She mulches. She sprinkles. She swears.
Many of her plants survive, much to her joy. They are blessed by rain in June and by the beginning of July the tomato plants are studded with little green marbles, the jalapeños sport wee nubbins of fruit.
Every day she watches them grow. They swell and warm. One afternoon as she stands there, holding a satiny tomato in her hand, feeling its heft on the vine and guessing by its color that it will be ripe in a few days, she notices clouds rolling in. Thunder rumbles and she ducks in the house.
She’s puttering around when she hears the first thud. Thump, thump, ratatatatatat. She freezes, then runs to a window.
The leaves of trees shimmer as they are pelted with bullets of ice. She can’t bear to look at the garden until the storm has passed. She crunches her way out there over the detested hailstones to survey the damage.
Her garden looks like a sea of salsa. Tomatoes are pulp on the ground, littered with the shreds of leaves. Jalapeños lie shattered. Bell peppers are smacked off their plants. Basil plants are a tangle of broken stems and torn leaves.
Those plants that survive are choked by the heat in August. And, unless this seven year drought breaks at last, the air is so dry that even if she can water them enough (she can’t) their leaves curl up and brown.
By September she sullenly collects her pitiful harvest, swearing she’s done with this gardening folly for good. It’s a fool’s game, she mutters. Go to the farmer’s market and spare yourself the pain.
Until a particularly warm day in March. She wanders out to the garden area and nonchalantly feels the soil (too wet). She closes her eyes and enjoys the sunshine, and wonders if it’s too early to plant lettuce.
Just a little.