From the Garden Gate: The Path of Least Resistance

May 15, 2013

"From the Garden Gate" is next. Murray resident Roy Helton divides his time between teaching in the English Department at Murray State University and indulging his passion for gardening.

The Path of Least Resistance

When I was young my father devoted half of our back yard in Nashville to his energetically maintained vegetable garden.  And since there were five children in the family, there was a certain obvious utility to all his planting and harvesting.

When I eventually had a wife, two children, and a plot of land, I began with my own vegetable garden.  But then I started bit by bit to add a flower bed here and there, imagining the imminent arrival of prominent horticulturalists to view my achievements.  The veggies did pretty well; the flowers, not so much.  I think if my flower beds back then had been a British pub instead of flower beds, they would have probably been called the Weed and Mole.

Later we left the weeds to the moles and moved to a smaller city lot, and by then my attention was solidly fixed on growing flowers.  Dazzled by plant catalogs promising to produce a veritable arboretum in my own yard, and enabled by friends who shared their stashes of plants, I began to turn every part of my plot of ground into flower beds.

I dug and planted by day.  I dug and planted by work lights strung up in trees at night.  Every spring as I tilled up the soil and pulled up winter weeds, I would expand the beds by a foot or so, hoping my long-suffering wife wouldn’t notice.  My effort at stealth gardening was, of course, about as successful as the effort of a kid with chocolate all over his lips trying to convince his mother that he has not, really, been anywhere near the cookie jar.

And yet, as much as I enjoyed my ever-expanding flower beds, I kept hearing a small, still voice whispering about spinach and lettuces and squash and cucumbers.  Well, anyway, blinded by visions of vine-ripe tomatoes, I gave in to the voice.  One morning I went out, determined to sacrifice a flower bed for the sake of fresh produce.  Finally, with a twinge of remorse, I settled on a bed near the garden shed.  After all, I told myself, its major features were the sad remains of what were once a lilac and a particularly generous selection of weeds.

I decided on boxes for my vegetables rather than just hacking out rows in the former flower bed. I bought in 2 X10’s and made my boxes twelve feet long and four feet wide. That way I would be able to reach all of the bed to plant and weed and harvest without ever having to step on the planted ground.  I dug the beds down to maybe a foot deep and found it easy to add sand or compost or topsoil to the space where I was actually going to plant.  Watering became easier and more efficient as well.

In my grand design I was going to pave the pathways between the beds in what would undoubtedly be a practical and aesthetic triumph.  When I finally got around to the task this year, I realized that my pathways were of, shall we say, “varying” widths and did not match the unyielding measurements of  the pavers I had optimistically purchased. 

Fortunately, there were other and cheaper alternatives.  I switched to layers of landscape fabric covered with wood mulch for the paths.  A friend suggested an even better solution: thick layers of newspapers covered with wheat straw.  And--when it decays—instant compost.  Now my paths may be weedless, but I’ve still got to figure out what to do with all those pavers.

Well, that’s it—from the garden gate.

Roy Helton divides his time between teaching in the English Department at Murray State University and indulging his passion for gardening.