I didn’t expect garden pleasures today. When we left for the lake swim, it was 13 degrees. What a contrast with week before last when one day the temperature reached something near 35, in the shade. John didn’t swim but sat at a picnic table in a hoody while I tried to forget I was cold and swam for 30 minutes, my casual laps between cedars. At home, we didn’t sit on the upper deck with coffee as we usually do.
But then it got warm. Not as warm as it’s been but the cloud lifted and there was blue sky. A good day to reorganize the greenhouse, I decided. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might remember that the greenhouse was a sort of consolation prize for me the winter after John’s double hip replacement surgery in fall, 2020, the one that resulted in an unexpected injury. So it was a longer recovery than anticipated. Other anxieties too, to do with heart issues and various levels which took a long time to settle down. There were many trips up and down the Coast, before the vaccines, so we were always a little nervous about entering the hospital to have dressings changed or whatever needed attention. When John said, What can I ever do to repay you, I immediately replied, Let’s order a greenhouse kit. I need to say that of course I would have cared for him no matter what. But a greenhouse was something nice to look forward to. We thought we’d have a friend help to put it together but then the friend wasn’t able to (for entirely legitimate reasons) so we did it ourselves. We’d built a house but we did that when we were younger and when one of us wasn’t coping with a paralyzed foot and limited mobility. Still, we worked it out, slowly, and luckily I’m strong because the beams we used for the foundation were water-logged and heavy as hell.
It gave me a lot of pleasure to build the greenhouse. To fill the base area we’d framed using treated 4x4s, bolted to posts set on cement pavers, with sand, to level it, to erect the walls and roof, to fit the little door into place, then to lay pavers over the sand inside, one long end cobbled with beach stones. To imagine trays of plants, maybe frogs. You can see the rocks John fitted between the ground and the beams, choosing each piece from the wheelbarrow loads I brought up from the old orchard, the wild area beyond the vegetable garden, anywhere I could find it. (That long diagonal pole was just to keep the rocks in place as he firmed up the foundation.) He fed some pvc pipe through a long edge so we could thread hose through for watering in spring and summer and an extension cord through in winter so we could keep a light, two lights, on when the nights were cold. The opening was blocked with a stone when not in use because, well, mice. The first Christmas of the greenhouse, Angie and Karna were here and Angie said it was sort of magical to look out and see the little box of light beyond the house.
All spring the greenhouse has been filled to the brim with seedlings and overwintered geraniums, 3 small olive trees (in bloom!), and 3 hopeful bougainvilleas. There was drama with the tomatoes this year, it took 3 plantings for me to have any of my own at all, but luckily a friend had extras, which are all thriving in tubs on the upper deck. I thought my own would shrivel up, first time in 40 years, but it turns out that there are about 20 ready to plant out, Pruden’s Purple and Paul Robeson, so after I’d emptied the greenhouse of everything that didn’t need to be there, I filled some pots, using half compost and half Salish soils mixes, and planted some of the tomatoes inside. (Most of the others will find places in the vegetable garden.) The tomatoes join a couple of eggplants, a couple of peppers (purchased because I had the same trouble this year with the poblano chiles I’ve grown for the past 8 or 10 years), a watermelon (its partner will be planted in the garden, an experiment to see who thrives), and some of the lemon cucumbers that somehow grew last year, though I didn’t plant them. I planted Armenian cucumbers. But I guess the package of seed contained a few lemon cucumbers as well and man, did they produce. I let them climb the wire shelving and we ate several each day for about 6 weeks. (I have more little seedlings so if you live near me and want some, just come by!) I have one long tray of lettuce leaf basil up on the deck with the tubs of tomatoes and have one in the greenhouse too. A bowl of Genovese basil.
While I was sweeping the pavers, a tree frog hopped out of the way. I love to know they’ve found the place. Last year there were several that made their home in the damp pots and I put little bowls of water around for them. The vent is open all summer and the door is open during the day so they can go out if it gets too hot.
As I was putting soil in the big pots, I remembered Denise Levertov’s poem “Pleasures””
I like to find
what’s not found
at once, but lies
within something of another nature,
in repose, distinct.
I wonder if I knew I’d love having a greenhouse to potter around in when I replied to John’s (I suspect) rhetorical question: What can I ever do to repay you? There’s a blue chair in one corner and earlier in the spring, I took my coffee out to drink in the box of light. I never sat for long because I’d notice that the pots of salad greens were probably ready to go up on the deck under the bathroom window or else I’d realize it was probably time to move bulbs to their various spring locations. In the middle of March, it was like heaven.
Now it’s cloudy again. The chairs on the upper deck look like they’re having their own unexpected moment, leaning in to each other like old friends. Lemon daylilies hold the sunlight that appeared, then disappeared, and in the greenhouse, the pavers are wet, the watermelon and cucumbers are getting accustomed to their space, and the air smells like basil. I think I’ll take a glass of wine out there in an hour or so and sit in the pleasure of things growing, every promise kept.
I like the juicy stem of grass that grows
within the coarser leaf folded round,
and the butteryellow glow
in the narrow flute from which the morning-glory
opens blue and cool on a hot morning.