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When I arrived home with my pots and dirt and all that jazz, I checked my phone to see if The Pickle was sleeping. The Unicorn and I keep close track of him with an app we love, and before those of you who raised children in the pre-app era scoff at us and tell me in the comments about how you did just fine figuring out when the child was hungry as opposed to tired as opposed to needing a diaper change without the aid of technology, let me just say that one of the best things about said app is that The Unicorn and I can use it to communicate about what has happened with the child in each other’s absence without actually talking about these things. In exchange for the cold light of technology collecting the data of our child’s routine, we get to use our precious adult conversation time to talk about OTHER important things. You know, like our finances, or who is more tired.
Parenting, folks. Parenting.
Anyway, I determined that The Pickle was, indeed, asleep, and so decided to forego the Loud And Triumphant Entry Into The House to greet my guys for a quiet shuffling of my bags from the car to the foyer, followed by the speediest unloading of garden supplies I have ever done in my life. When the baby is sleeping, the clock is TICKING, people. Time cannot be a-wasting.
I hauled my five bags of dirt. I hauled my pots. I took the seedlings to the back patio. I listened carefully (via a totally different app) and heard no waking-up noises coming from upstairs. I stood back and looked at the job at hand.
This is the point when I realized what I had done. I bought three pots. Three. Which is fine, because I had three tomato seedlings. The problem is I actually bought one of the pots in an appropriate size for the basil seedling, which meant I only had two pots appropriate for the tomatoes.
Rectifying this was going to require going back to the garden store, and at this point, that wasn’t happening. It was time to improvise, AKA do the best I could with what I had available.
When I arrived at the garden center, I had two jobs: Buy pots, and buy dirt.
This should seem pretty simple. Three plants, so three pots. Right? And enough dirt for said pots. Indeed.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t make a list, and I was trying to get home to my husband and baby, and it’s Oakland, so I’d already had an epic battle to get a parking space in the tiny garden center lot. (That’s probably worth its own blog post, and perhaps its own blog. I won’t get into it here.) That meant I was slightly distracted, and, per usual, already hamstrung by my inability to figure out how much dirt goes in a given pot.
For those of you who haven’t been following along quite as long as I’ve been blogging, I started The Inadvertent Gardener in May 2006. Nine years ago, it probably made sense that I hadn’t figured out volumes. Now? I don’t have that much of an excuse.
But I am just going to go ahead and blame all of this on the gardening industry. They sell pots with diameters. Diameters are not volume. Diameter is important, sure, because how else do you know if your pots are going to fit where you intend to put them? (Unless, like me, you hadn’t really thought that part out before getting to the garden center, either.) But diameter is missing depth, which means you have to kind of eyeball whether or not there’s enough room for whatever roots of whatever plant you’re trying to grow, and without depth, you can’t figure out volume.
Bags of dirt? They’re sold by the cubic foot. THAT’S VOLUME.
So, let’s start with my first problem: I got in the garden center and my brain kind of shut down for a minute, and then I decided that I needed marigolds (six-packs available right there), and really, some basil, too. But then I still only bought three pots. And one of them was sized down. You know, FOR THE BASIL.
In other words, my brain edited out an entire tomato plant as I was shopping. And inserted basil. And some flowers for which I did not actually purchase any pots at all. And, besides, I couldn’t figure out volume, so I just did the equivalent of stabbing at the air when it came to selecting bags of dirt.
Oh, and, just to make things more difficult? This garden center wanted you to figure out what potting soil you wanted by looking at a row of bags manned by a curly-haired dude who didn’t really want you to pick any of them up. I mean, not that I think picking up a bag of potting soil would have unlocked the key to volume either, but it meant I was completely stabbing at the air with an imaginary pencil at this point.
“I’ll take five bags like this,” I said to the checkout clerk, pointing at the one I had sneaked out of the aisle of dirt before the curly-haired dude caught me and explained the rules.
The clerk took my money, I took my dirt, and basil, and marigolds, and two bigger pots, and one smaller pot, and one trowel for good measure, and I loaded up for home.
A few minutes after I accepted the gift of tomato plants from my Airbnb host, she reappeared with three seedlings and left them near the Airstream. “There you go,” she said. “They should be fine here until you head home.”
I looked at them out the door of the trailer, but it wasn’t until the next day that I got up close to them. There was a Stupice plant—a Stupice plant that already had fruit on it!—but there was also a Sungold plant and a Peacevine, which is a variety I had never heard of before.
It had been sometime in January 2014 that I’d last been more than a few miles away from The Pickle (or, the bundle of cells previously known as Spawn), so as the Independence Day holiday weekend approached, The Unicorn suggested I get out of town by myself. We had a freezer full of milk, after all, and I’d been complaining about not having any time to write or read or, for that matter, sleep.
I poked around on Airbnb and found the perfect spot: An Airstream trailer on a property about 45 minutes from home, close enough to not waste too much time driving, but far enough away to guarantee I’d feel like I was away. Plus, for the cost of a private room in a house in the same area, I was getting my own walls and a ton of privacy. I booked it happily, and began planning my escape.
I had seen in the various reviews of the place that the owner often left visitors gifts of produce from her garden, and I, too, was a lucky beneficiary: the plate of welcome snacks she left for me included three ripe tomatoes, and there was a bowl of just-picked strawberries in the refrigerator for breakfast.
“Do you mind if I wander through the garden a bit?” I asked. “I have a garden blog—though I’d love to see it.”
The host acquiesced, but noted that her life had been busy and her garden wasn’t as well-maintained as it usually is. “Are you kidding me?” I replied. “I haven’t gardened at all in a couple of years. I’m just thrilled to see what you’ve got.”
She left me to settle in and returned later with an item I’d forgotten and asked to borrow. (Bless her, because that generous act meant I could just stay put for 45 hours without running a single errand…)
“By the way, I have two tomato plants that I haven’t found homes for,” she said. “They’re Stupice.”
It’s funny how you can miss something without even knowing it. “That’s one of my favorite varieties,” I said. “They grow so well!”
“If I had to choose only one to grow around here, that’s the one I’d choose,” she said. It turns out that she starts hundreds of plants, sets dozens of them in her own garden, and sells off the rest to neighbors. But she hadn’t gotten rid of all of them, and she knew she’d never get the last ones in the ground.
“I’ll leave them for you if you’d like,” she said. “I know you said you haven’t gardened in awhile, but…”
I took a deep breath, knowing saying yes meant a commitment to rebuild my container garden supplies, and to do so quickly.
“I’ll take them,” I said. “I’d be happy to give them a home.”