Epicure: How My Garden (Obsession) Grows…

Gardening has become a quickly unfolding obsession for me. I’m bordering on farming and that’s cool. But the paraphernalia is a bit much.

The lawn looks great now that’s it’s under cultivation—neatly arrayed raised beds, taut deer fencing, brand new hoses and brass nozzles. But the “interior life” of a gardener can get messy.

I’m yet to let go of the trappings of my lifelong sewing obsession. Fabric, lace, patterns, books take up a lot of space in my home and my storage unit. My cooking habits encroach upon much of our home—cookbooks in the library, above the kitchen sink, in a shelf at the top of the stairs. Pots and pans and pie plates overflow the kitchen while canning jars bury the basement.

And now gardening. I had no idea. I keep all the tools and my gloves in a shed. But then there’s the books…and catalogs and magazines and sketches…Plus I understand that I’ll soon be storing seeds in my fridge.

I thought I was onto a way to clean out—as I reached a new level in my pursuit of gardening, I’ve given away my copy of Crockett’s Victory Garden by James Underwood Crockett. I loved that Underwood spelled out what to do each month. But since 1977 there’s been a strong case made against the home use of pesticides. And Long Island’s USDA Plant Hardiness Zone passed from 6 to 7 last year, we’re getting warmer. So I feel that my garden is less comparable to Crockett’s Massachusetts garden. I sent my tome of Bicentennial Yankee advice back to where it came from—the wall of our local transfer station.

My new go-to gardening guide is The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman (Workman Publishing). It breaks everything down into the simplest terms. For instance, there are illustrated charts (in lovely watercolors) of garden rotations over five years; a WINTER garden is explained in detail. Turns out you can grow leeks all year long—they don’t care what the temperature is. Suddenly leeks are my favorite vegetable. No doubt I’ll grow very fond of other root crops and brassicas (the cabbage family) next winter as well. Cold temperatures make them sweeter. I’m learning!

I may be spending all of my time in the winter garden, at the rate our house is filling up with books. Four Season Farm seems complete garden-wise, but the cookbook section didn’t bowl me over. I’ll certainly try some of the recipes but I’m not letting go of any of my other cookbooks. Much like cookbooks, every gardening book has something to offer. As does every gardening catalog, pamphlet and magazine. Oy. And then there are the “finer” things in life.

I attended the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s annual Gardening School in Riverhead last month. It’s a one-day intensive. Wow! I highly recommend it for any gardener. I learned so much in my two classes—one about composting, the other on garden design. I also gleaned valuable advice from my fellow gardeners over lunch, like where to get inexpensive tomatoes for canning—Babinski’s!

One attendee was giving away a stack of old magazines. We had similar tastes so I passed on her old copies of Country Living and House Beautiful, but a little number called Fine Gardening caught my eye. Instantly hooked.

I’m not about to give up my subscriptions to Saveur or Lucky Peach or Food Arts, but maybe by focusing on the “fine” in dining, gardening, sewing and collecting I can pare down a little. Anyone out there in need of a book of Amish recipes?

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