On Failure and Success: Spring In the Gardens

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1811

Jefferson made the above remarks to Charles Willson Peale when he was nearly 70 years old, about 13 years before his death. He had recently retired from his presidency and public life, and was busy at Monticello completing the vegetable garden platform and Garden Pavilion: a place from which he could take in the estate's views and activities comprehensively. 

I am moved by his remarks for several reasons. Namely, because they ring of humility -- not necessarily a characteristic I would associate with our 3rd President and author of the decisive and powerful Declaration of Independence. How refreshing, then, to hear a person who had occupied such a traditional role of power express his own humility in relation to Nature's course and cycles, and to delight in it, unthreatened, without expressing defeat or the need to dominate. Gardens have this kind of ability, and more, to remind us of our role, our place in the Big picture, and our own abilities as well as inabilities. Gardens and farms make us mediators, collaborators and, perhaps, as Rudolf Steiner suggests, priests. Jefferson recognized the value of scientific methods and experimentation in the garden as well as the acute requirement to develop deep sensitivities and abilities to observe. Well before the word resiliency was a part of a farmer's daily vernacular, Jefferson was creating a framework for this method.                    

To touch on our "failures," at Delphi, is to recognize them and address them, full on. I'll be posting updates on our management strategies as time goes on, and hope that others will learn from our experiences. So, to get to it: Devastatingly, we've discovered Fire Blight in the orchard. 

As the orchard awakes with blossoms and foliage, signs of Fire Blight have made themselves known on some of our oldest, most vigorous apple and quince trees. Note the burned looking branch in the center of the frame.

Especially devastating has been discovering signs of Fire Blight on Delphi's mature espaliered trees. Their symmetry is lost due to removal cuts that must be made to, hopefully, save the tree. The disease typically appears at the tips of branches first, then makes its way toward the trunk, as seen here. 

And another "failure," or frustration, rather: the solans - peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes - and some of our basil and flower starts, too, have experienced a fair amount of fungal damage. Be it Fusarium, Phytophthora, Pythium, Rhizoctonia, or Thielaviopsis damage, perhaps a plant pathologist could tell, but I can not. And, while I've not been able to diagnose the problem, I have also been unable to treat it effectively. 

Young pepper plants exhibit deformed leaves, alongside some young seedlings that did not even make it to the stage of development that these have. 

The garden's successes are everywhere, too. They come in the form of birdsongs, swallows diving, narcissus emerging with early color, diverse scents of nectar and flowers, a lushness despite this having been such a terribly dry year, colors, textures, and flavors that simply speak for themselves: 

Cherry blossoms illuminated

Bellevalia pycnantha, or grape hyacinth, borders a bed in hairy vetch cover crop, which also has small purple flowers. 

The sweet, distinct smell of wisteria, growing over the arbor that leads to the Grainfields was incomparable..and so fleeting.  

Thomas Jefferson was a wonderfully accomplished farmer, quite uncontroversially. But his embrace of a life-long learning practice that was both intellectual and experiential, deep, persistent, and consistent. In his own words, he was an amateur gardener! The word "amateur," after all, is French with roots in Latin, amator,  'lover', and amare, 'to love'. May we all be perpetual amateurs, then, in love with our work, our practice, able to embrace imperfections, successes, and failures equally. May we, as gardeners, be in love with being a part of all of life's cycles that we find ourselves engaged in. And, finally, may this hard, good work lead to our own declarations of independence -- to answer, with confidence, the call to help heal the Earth, help restore balance, accept the many climate changes that we are still just beginning to see with grace and sensitivity, and to use our capacity to observe Nature with an eye toward resilience, toward the future.