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Reflections from an improbable gardener in Juneau

  • Author: Geoff Kirsch
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published July 28, 2017

No matter how you slice it, gardening is as much a part of the Alaska experience as shoveling snow. (Getty)

JUNEAU — Gardening — like cleaning out the refrigerator or using my treadmill as more than just an auxiliary closet — is one of those things I'd always talk about but never got around to doing.

And while the fridge continues its steady descent into chaos (taking with it every food storage container we own) and the treadmill hasn't seen any action since my kids festooned it with pillows and blankets to create a "bed-mill," this year, my dream garden became a reality.

Actually, "dream" is kind of a misnomer. First of all, I don't really dream about gardens; the closest I come is that one where I'm pitching at Yankee Stadium, but that's really more of a field. Also, my fantasies tend to be a bit more elaborate than a 3-by-12-foot wooden box filled with dirt and manure. By the way, you've got to love a hobby that compels you to walk into a store for the express purpose of buying crap — hundreds of pounds of crap. Literally. Next year I think I'll apply Alaska's trademark DIY spirit to manure and make my own. I've got the time. All I need is the roughage.

Anyway, improbably enough, my garden box sits right in the center of the yard, like an unburied casket — not an entirely inapt metaphor considering my morbid agricultural past.

Don’t text and wack

Over the years, I've managed to slaughter cactuses, both by over- and under-watering — do you know how profound one's neglect must be to under-water a cactus to death? Two years ago I blew a hundred dollars on tulip bulbs only to accidentally rototill most of them out the following spring. The survivors succumbed to an unfortunate instance with a weed wacker. (Let this be a lesson to you: Don't text and wack.)

At least I come by my skills honestly. My mother could kill a rock garden. Lovely woman, but even her artificial flowers seemed to cry out in pain.

Surprise, surprise then that my first attempt at gardening is actually bearing fruit. (Although by fruit, I mean whatever produce I can manage to coax from the mishmash of seeds I scrounged from friends; oh, and rhubarb — lots and lots of rhubarb.)

Now, lest I run afoul of the authorities, let me clarify: The garden I'm talking about is perfectly legal, no matter how much I grow, either for personal use or to sell (although, honestly, I don't think anyone would buy any of it, especially not the turnips, which are coming in particularly effed because I didn't thin them properly).

Still, somewhere during the past month and a half, I became a gardener. Don't ask me how. It just sort of slipped under the radar, although to be fair, I haven't been monitoring the radar all that closely of late.

So far, I've successfully harvested eight radishes — those radishes, photographed atop an otherwise entirely store-bought salad, garnered more "likes" on Facebook than the birth of my son — and enough spinach, once sauteed, to fill half of a serving bowl. From what I hear, it was delicious. And mostly free of dirt.

Another telling detail: Back in May, I procrastinated writing by gardening. Now I procrastinate gardening by writing.

For instance, at this very moment, my potatoes need re-mounding, my kale needs trimming and unless I pound in some stakes, that snarl of untrellised pea vines is going to congeal into a giant veggie dreadlock. And what I am doing? Sipping coffee in my pajamas, spending an hour brainstorming metaphors for untrellised pea vines (and "veggie dreadlock" is the best I could come up with).

Hipster cred

But gardening isn't just for middle-aged women or foppish 17th-century French kings anymore. While less intense than raising chickens, it still gives you hipster cred. Perfect example: The person who told me my spinach was ready to eat? A houseguest visiting from Brooklyn.

No matter how you slice it, gardening is as much a part of the Alaska experience as shoveling snow. And like winter driveway maintenance, gardening requires constant attention.

Which reminds me … you know that movie, "The Constant Gardener," starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz? Powerful film, but it has absolutely nothing to do with gardening. If you're looking to Hollywood for horticultural tips, I suggest "Little Shop of Horrors." I mean, my garden's growing big and strong, and I've fed it lots of human blood. (Let this also be a lesson: Don't text and snip spinach.)

All right, I've sat at my desk long enough. Sun's creeping out and trellising beckons, so, if you'll excuse me — I'm going to go stake a pea.

Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist currently working on an essay collection based upon his long-running column in the Juneau Empire.