Ever brought a bunch of little plants home from the nursery?
They look so cute in their 4″ pots packed together into a tray – bright green with their different shapes of leaves. Some are tall while others are spreading, some leaves are large and cut out while others are miniature and closely packed, some are bright green, others are variegated, purplish or chartreuse. There are no flowers yet, nothing distracts you form marvelling at this array of textures that is so full of potential and budding life.
Now work starts. At a minimum, they need sun and water, or pretty soon your tray is not going to look so hot. It’s already inconvenient – you need to clear a sunny spot in a window, and when you water them, it’s going to run off together with some soil and make a mess.
Now, you have a decision to make about what to do with them, they can’t stay in that window for ever.
One – take them back to the nursery, they are too mush hassle. What were you thinking, getting them in the first place? You don’t have time for that, you fell prey to spring fever. Professionals would know what to do with them. They would fertilize and water them, might transplant them into bigger pots. You might get them back when they are bigger, you might not. Chances are, they are going to be root bound and artificially fed, but at least you don’t need to fret and bother with them.
Two – pop them in the garden wherever you can find space. Some might get shaded, outcompeted, they might disappear by the end of the season. Some of them will muscle out the flowers you have already. You’ll deal with it later. At least, you don’t have to worry about them any more right now.
Three – prepare a plot and plant them a decent space apart, mulch the soil and see how they develop – then you can decide what to do with them later.
Four – start finding out about them! Some seedlings might turn out to be pear trees, others rhubarb, while still others are daisies or forget-me-nots. Some are hardy, some need to be protected. Some grow upright, others need support. All of them would require different conditions, care, and placement to fit into their unique niche and bring out their best. You would have to look at every single one individually and do some detective work to figure out who they are and what kind of fruit can you expect from them.
You would also have to analyze the soil and amend it, differently depending on what you’ve got. You might need to build windbreaks, swales and cold frames, scout out shady spots and figure out irrigation. You need to look closely at your plants and your conditions and puzzle out how to fit them together. To combine generous doses of observation, research, care and vigilance, of hauling and shovelling. There will be some angst – it’s a complex system, you know from the get go that you are going to fail to take something into account. There will also be hope – plants are marvellous, they often surprise you with their resilience and their will to live.
That’s a lot of work up front! That’s a lot of work ongoing! But with luck, at many places along the way you would have many many moments of quiet contemplation watching your plants grow, examining their subtle textures, inhaling their aromas, admiring dew drops on a petal while listening to the birds and the crickets. And as they mature, you’ll be able to string up a hammock between two apple trees, cuddle up there with a couple of little ones, and read a book aloud to them while savouring the fruits of your labour such as no money can buy.