Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Home for My Tomatoes

When we moved last fall, I dug up a few shrubs that were likely to suffer from neglect with no one to care for them, and planted them as soon as I could upon moving. Getting those shrubs settled in where their roots could knit themselves into the ground took precedence over unpacking our many books and other things, such are the priorities of a gardener.

I also took careful measurements of the yard, drew up the outline, observed and noted as best I could where the overhanging tree branches would be casting their shadows come June, and set it all aside for one of my favorite winter pastimes: garden planning.

Except I never did the planning. It wasn’t really that I was too busy, though I told myself as much, it was more like I just wasn’t inspired to do it. The lay of the land, so to speak, wasn’t yet familiar to me.

So this spring, when my husband asked where we were going to plant tomatoes and beans — the two vegetables we must plant every summer, if nothing else — I pointed without conviction to the corner of the backyard that I had figured would have the most sun, and we paced out the spots where a couple of raised postage-stamp beds (four-foot square) could go, and he said, OK, we’ll get the lumber on the weekend and I’ll make the frames.

But I wasn’t wholly at ease with the plan. The spot seemed aesthetically awkward — the two garden boxes couldn’t be tucked into the corner because that’s where raspberries grew — and I wasn’t sure it would really get enough sun, and it seemed to be just within reach of the dog when out on her leash.

It was a few days later that I had the aha! moment that got me over my gardening hump. I was standing in the backyard, appreciating the ample shade from the mature, sprawling Norway maple that had finally opened its leaves and covered most of the yard in its soothing shade, and facing the front yard as I pondered our gardening prospects.

And then I noticed the south side of the house awash in sunlight.

I eyed that space, and I realized that the declination of the summer sun, plus the modest height of our neighbor’s house to the south, plus reflected heat and light from the stucco walls of our house equaled the best conditions for heat-loving tomato plants that I’ve had in many years.

And suddenly I felt very much at home, knowing where I would plant my tomatoes.

(I wrote this for my editor’s column in my little journal, Minneapolis Observer Quarterly, or MOQ. To learn more about MOQ, including how to subscribe, please go here.)