(or am I glad to see you?)

I’m so happy! Like deliriously giddy. Maybe it was those two Excedrin with caffeine I took to ward off the ennui of another 2020 day—let’s call those little pills a contributing factor. But actually, it’s the bulbs.

A little history about my road to unbridled joy. I have bulbs. Lots of them. I don’t know where they all came from, but every time I turned over a rock or raked some leaves out of the flower beds these bulbs would appear, bubbling out of the soil like, um, bubbles. Hyacinth, tulips, iris—gosh and golly, I don’t really know what they all are. Trust me: the fact that I unearthed a buttload of bulbs bears little correlation to the scant amount of flowers that actually appear in our garden during the growing season. Nevertheless, there they were, and picking them up brought the same kind of thrill I get when picking a dime off the sidewalk. Freebie! Charmed life! Yay!

I gathered them up with the idea of turning what was obviously random chaos into some semblance of conscious order which, in our yard, would be something of a giant breakthrough. I dutifully put them in a box covered with peat moss like a “how to store bulbs” Google search says to do and awaited prime autumn bulb-planting weather.

Which is now. So, fueled with high expectations and not a few milligrams of encapsulated caffeine I set out to create a bed for my bulbs. I dug a respectable trough some 5 feet long and 2 feet wide and a good 12 inches deep. I filled said trough with high-grade planting soil and a tad of organic compost and began to plant my bulbs according to the advice I got when Googling “how to plant bulbs.”

I took some of the fattest bulbs and stuck them in the ground a few inches deep and 8 inches apart. When the bed was completely planted, I still had scads of bulbs left over. What good are scads of unplanted bulbs? Answer: No good! So I went back and doubled the density, carefully planting another set of bulbs in between the first. Still, a plethora of bulbs remained. Yes, a plethora.

And then, inspiration struck. Screw conventional wisdom—when has that ever been real actual fun?

Answer: Rarely! I felt a deep and exhilarating urge to be undisciplined, unbridled, unchained!

Into the trough went all the bulbs, probably one hundred and fifty. I covered them with a couple of inches of soil and stood back feeling positively elated and free. Take that, 2020! You think you can turn everything upside down? Ha! I see the cluttered mess of your days and weeks and raise you a completely whacked out flower bed that defies common sense.

And what will spring reveal about my bodacious bed of bountiful bulbs? Who knows, but it will be something better than you, 2020, something much better than you.

  • John R

It’s toward the end of the growing season—sometimes referred to by certain spouses around here as the “stunted season”—and it’s time to inventory the foodstuffs we successfully grew this year in our righteous little piece of planet Earth.

We did have a disturbing plethora of cherry tomatoes, documented here in another thrilling episode of Schiddygarden. But the real abundance of this year’s efforts are so aptly characterized by The Pepper.

The Pepper was the culmination of years of wishful thinking and thumbing through seed catalogs and making exclamations such as, Definitely gotta grow these Katarina Cabbages and Wow! Wouldn’t some Romanian Red Radishes be great? I don’t particularly care for cabbages and radishes, but I’m a sucker for alliteration.

But what I did want, dearly, were peppers. Sweet and mild, hot and tangy, savory and crispy. Bring on the peppers! Salsa! Si! Marinara! Si! Something French! Oui!

So we planted peppers. Poblanos, anaheims, jalapenos, Italian sweet, chocolate bell. If you’ve ever keenly anticipated the birth of your first child or the death of a wealthy relative, you know the hopes and dreams that went into those plantings. Nurtured with relatively good soil and targeted waterings that favored them over, say, any nearby growing thing, the pepper plants rose from seedlings in halting steps, as if timid and unsure. They put out pepper sprouts about the size of a half-used pencil eraser and then quit. Maybe they went on strike, I’ve heard it said that plants communicate more socially than we give them credit for. This despite well-intentioned conversations I had with our peppers that were designed to encourage and enable, using parental entreatments such as, What in the hell is wrong with you?

And finally it worked! We grew The Pepper! Nearly three inches long, sporting a fetching orange-and-viridescent ensemble, The Pepper appeared unbidden in the center of the flower garden and refused to die. Over the course of the summer that plant reached nearly one foot in height as it dangled The Pepper from one spindly arm. I let it linger there well into the autumn, confident that prodigious growth was yet to occur, until finally one day Deb plucked it and set it unceremoniously on the kitchen counter. “We should eat it,” she said without a whole lot of invested emotion, “before some raccoon does.”

So we did. I chopped it up and put it in an omelet with some (delicious) store-bought canned chilis. We are now One with The Pepper.

Our abundance didn’t stop at peppers—goodness no! We also harvest eight—count ‘em eight—green onions. We had them in a salad with some (delicious) store-bought mixed greens, and they tasted very oniony. So let me say with authority, if you haven’t grown and harvested your own food, you are so missing out.

Did we fall short of expectations? Wrong question. Given the amount of neglect and ennui that attends our garden, we should be asking, How is it that our foodstuffs saw fit to survive an entire growing season? Obviously, something went right. In fact, I’m now so pumped up for next year that I’ve already ordered my seed catalogs. I’ve got my eye on some Elegant Elephant Eggplant and Kosmic Kandystripe Kale. Can’t wait!

  • John R

Surprise! Just when I thought life boiled down to mask shopping, binge streaming, binge snacking, and mucking about in the yard, along comes this tidbit: There are things in my house and garden that can kill me.

This is not exactly bad news. I’ll explain.

Yes, it’s a bummer that in The Strangest Year Ever, we’ve shaved our lives down to the bare essentials, packed a go bag, tried not to breathe, and had to keep one eye on the window to watch out for the coming Fire Tsunami. It’s exhausting.

Then this happened: Just the other day I went out into the yard to take solace in the few hearty plants that have managed to struggle through another season of neglectful good intentions, and I came across a black widow spider.

Where we live, black widows—species Latrodectus—aren’t uncommon. You don’t often spot them because they’re shy and they like to hide away in dark netherworlds, such as crawl spaces. But they’re there.

I spotted her uncharacteristically strolling along an eave. I wasn’t entirely sure it was a BW, so I captured her in a glass jar so I could check out her underbelly. Sure enough, there was the telltale red hourglass shape. My first thought was, Good Lord, is there no escape from potential danger these days?

As it turns out, there isn’t. And that’s not a bad thing.

Sure, we try to mitigate risks. We try to keep stupid moves to a minimum. We wouldn’t, for example, wear a wetsuit made entirely of raw meat and then swim in shark-infested waters. Okay, maybe if Shark Week producers offered us a stunning amount of cash, but no, the vast majority of us wouldn’t risk it.

Yet we live in a world where our self-appointed tenure at the top of the food chain can be a matter of circumstance. Risk abounds. There are times when animals such as grizzly bears, great white sharks, mountain lions, and crocodiles occupy the top spot of the food chain hierarchy and relegate some unfortunate souls to the second tier known as “lunch.”

I don’t mean to be cavalier about it (although that’s a splendid-sounding word, “cavalier”) or dismissive of others’ misfortunes. But we desperately need these amazing creatures—they’re reminders that despite the “triumph of human evolution” (Joe McCarthy and daytime TV notwithstanding), we’re not the top bananas. Occasionally, we are eaten. And bitten—a diminutive black widow spider strolling along an eave is not in awe of us.

It’s a sensibility that has a name: memento mori. That’s Latin for “remember that we die.” It’s not a doom-and-gloom slogan. It’s a call to be vibrantly alive, to enjoy, to be kind, to partake, to savor, to be humble, and to get your bulbs in the ground before winter.

So what did I do with Ms. Widow? I thought briefly of dumping her over the fence onto my neighbor’s property. Hey, what are neighbors for if not to provide a little memento mori? But those folks are too nice—well, fairly nice—so I didn’t do that. Instead, I drove her up into the woods and let her go in the deep brush where I hope she establishes a nice web and enjoys an endless supply of hapless bugs. Part of me wonders if she might find her way back to our house, like those stories of lost schnauzers who travel thousands of miles back to their hometowns. I could picture her showing up at our front door, carrying three or four tiny hobo bags on sticks slung over multiple shoulders, politely knocking and announcing, “Remember me? I’m back!”

Fun bonus fact: I found another poisonous arachnid, a spider with the curiously unhelpful name of false brown widow. Steatoda is often mistaken for a cousin of the black widow—the real brown widow—which it’s not at all. See? Anyway, it’s got some venom but not as much as a brown widow, which it isn’t. This Steatoda was under the wooden bin where I coil the garden hose. I didn’t feel compelled to capture this widow imposter and transport her to a distant locale. Instead I took her picture (above), eased the bin back down so as not to squish her, and thought, “Live long and prosper, little Stea!”

Stay safe everybody!

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