There is something strange going on in my garden—something of a cross between Jack and the Beanstalk, the Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It’s my collard greens. They are out of control.
I hate to admit this but truthfully, I’m not much of a gardener. Don’t get me wrong. I love having a garden. I love watching things grow. I love harvesting fresh veggies and chowing down on them. I just don’t like gardening. Digging in the dirt, weeding, watering, debugging, that is not my scene.
So typically, I wait till the last possible planting date to prepare the garden for the new seasonal crop. This usually occurs just as a huge rainstorm is brewing. The predicted deluge serves two purposes. First, it provides me motivation for getting the garden flipped before I’ts transformed into a mud pile. Second, it means I won’t have to water once the plants are in the ground. Instead, just step back, wait, and let Mother Nature do the work. I’m a big proponent of the natural approach.
Waiting until such a late date doesn’t allow much of selection when it comes to deciding what goes in the garden. It’s pretty much whatever is left at local nurseries or garden centers. I’m not picky. I take what’s available. That’s how I ended up with artichokes this last time.
I’m totally up front with the young seedlings. We talk. I tell them, “Look. I’ll do whatever I can to give you a fair start. I’ll fertilize you. Water you. Even talk nice to you, whatever—but after that, you are on your own. You need to provide for yourself. Grow, produce. That’s your job. I don’t have time to mess with watering, or pests, or weeds. Okay? I can’t be responsible.” They seem to get it.
So it is that in my garden only the tough survive. The red kale couldn’t cut the mustard. It shriveled up and died within the first week. The artichokes suffered a rough period of adjustment, but ultimately sucked it up and are currently thriving. The arugula never skipped a beat despite finding itself smack in the middle of a fire ant mound. Where those fierce, fire-breathing insects came from I can’t tell you, but I assure you, having suffered their wrath multiple times with blisters to prove it, they have my most upmost respect. As does the brave arugula, whose tasty leaves I harvest quite gingerly these days.
The problem, as I mentioned, are the collard greens. I’m a Southern gal who loves her greens, and that’s a good thing because these guys took my words to heart. They have grown, produced, and reproduced. Then reproduced again. The weird thing is they don’t die. They don’t go to seed. They just keep growing, through the summer’s brutal heat and drought, through the winter’s cold. Two years. Three years now, and still going strong. I don’t think that’s normal. They are also huge, as much as three feet in diameter. Forget about using them for sandwich wraps, I can use them for a body wrap.
We live in a townhouse community and my small garden is visible and open to all. The garden space is narrow, only six feet wide, but stretches for about 20 feet across the back of our townhome. It runs about a foot from the community boardwalk, which neighbors use to walk their pets, or for leisurely strolls. My garden is hard to ignore, especially as the greens are beginning to extend beyond the garden’s edge, inching ever closer to the boardwalk. Passing neighbors marvel at my green thumb, joke about my ability to survive the coming apocalypse, and ask my secret to growing such robust and healthy greens.
I smile. Shrug my shoulders and utter, “T.L.C., I guess.” I know all the while the greens are listening to this exchange. We both know the truth of that lie. So what is their secret? What have they been up to, and just how have they been providing for themselves. I’m suspicious, not to mention a little fearful, because it seems there has been an uptick in the number of small animals reported missing in the neighborhood. Could it be?