Ruth Bass: From lettuce to weeds, gardens are the home of reality

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RICHMOND >> National politicians don't come to Richmond. We're too small to bother with and, most of the time, too small to raise a fuss about anything. They don't come to Pittsfield, either. Well, Jack Kennedy did and Jimmy Carter — but most of the time, Pittsfield is too small as well. For some reason, Berkshire County has done well with presidents' wives: Lady Bird Johnson, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

But if the top contenders did come, we could show them our gardens, especially vegetable gardens. In a time of wrangling and insults, lies and prevarications and fibs and mistakes, perhaps they could find some truth among weeds that flourish even in drought and the August look of vegetables gone by and things to be harvested.

Certainly they'd find reality. The earth is quite parched these days, so they might blithely ask where the irrigation system is. They've seen whirligigs in the west, spreading water and pesticides over the land. It's a hose and a sprinkler, they're told, and you haul it around, changing its spot every half hour or so. And sometimes watering is banned to save it for flushing and drinking and bathing and cooking. Some neighbors depend on a shallow spring, and they've run out of water. The last thing they're thinking about is how the lettuce is growing.

Politicians would take a photo op when you tug on a frilly carrot top, and a perfect, fat orange carrot pops out. But this year it will take a shovel, and some are not perfect — a worm has taken his lunch at one end. Shouldn't you spray, they might ask, as if they knew about growing things. That's a no-no here, you say, unless the cucumber beetles come. The carrots needed a shovel last year, too, because marauding deer dined on the green tops, leaving no handle for pulling. But our reality is that we keep planting them and take for granted that some years are better than others. Optimism reigns every spring.

It's hard to know why the deer, which reportedly abound this year, have so far not touched the 2016 garden. They devoured last September's crop of green beans. They came in early winter to eat crab apples in the snow. Fencing? They're steeplechasers at heart. So is it the marigolds? We planted them at the end of every row because they supposedly attack nematodes (which attack vegetables), and they look pretty. We also put them in the middle of beans and lettuce because they give off a strong, green odor when anything brushes the leaves. We had the desperate idea that maybe deer wouldn't like that smell. We also planted a row of the lovely but odiferous cleomes.

We crushed egg shells and scattered them around the plants most appealing to creatures. We also invested in an inexpensive roll of something called "predator" tape. It's iridescent silver, two inches wide, and yard-long strips are tied to every post in the garden. They fly and flash almost perpetually on this breezy hill. Do they keep away deer? Who knows. What we know is that we have marigolds, cleomes and flying strips of silver and we don't have deer. At least not yet.

We do, however, have weeds. The weeds of August and September, trying their darndest to plant their seeds for next year before the frost comes. They mound over the potato plants, which have died back in clayey soil that has hardened like cement. But they must be dug. Digging potatoes was one of the few things I liked about gardening when I was a kid. Getting them out of their nest below the dead brown stem of the potato plant was like a treasure hunt. This year it's a bit more like mining. They look small, the visiting politician might say. Yep, they like water, and they had a thirsty summer.

The garden is where reality lives. The gardener controls it as well as possible, but it has a mind of its own and never wavers from the truth about weather, critters and the gardener's devotion. It would be refreshing for politicians to get down to earth now and then.

Ruth Bass enjoys on-site vegetables. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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