The Resilient Gardener
by muddy feet mama
About a year ago I picked up a book from Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon called “The Resilient Gardener.” We were visiting Jay’s sister for Thanksgiving. It was that weird blissful moment right before he was re-diagnosed.
It’s a quirky book. It seemed pricey compared to the sea of other Nouveau-Homesteader books flooding the bookstores at the time, but it was clearly written by a woman with a deep understanding of the topic. Carol Deppe – the author – hooked me with a compelling argument about self-reliance. Unlike many mini-farm/urban farm authors, she eschews bio-intensive methods (others I respect advocate for it). She reminds us that in an environmental or energy crisis we won’t have the water to maintain food production like that. She also meanders into topics such as celiac’s disease, gardening with a bad back and covenants with plants (you read that right). She brings up fantastic reminders that we should research what the natives and the early settlers ate in our region. Her advice about seed saving and food storage is sage. She rambles, and within the stuff that seems too regional (Willamette Valley, OR) or personal (she takes at least 20 minutes to eat a meal) Ms. Deppe shares a wealth of knowledge. It’s kind of like sitting next to your eccentric aunt at Thanksgiving and realizing she’s actually the keeper of every important detail you may ever need. Her life story is intertwined with those details, and though seemingly wacky now, may prove to be important later.
I find myself reflecting on her story tonight because I am not sure if my chickens have been fed or watered in the last 2 days. I am grateful for the rain and have seen from the bathroom window (in the morning, before racing to the hospital) that the garden looks terrific, but I have not tended anything for two days. The chickens are in the coop, incarcerated since last winter’s garden massacre. Jay is now home, recovering from yet another surgery. Tomorrow I will make amends. But as Carol Deppe reminds us: ”Hard times are normal…. How to garden in the best of times [is] not the issue…. I needed a garden that better enhanced my own resilience, in all kinds of times, good and bad.”
Her gardening history is recounted many times in the book, but the argument for a resilient garden starts with the story of her elderly, dying mother. It starts with the role of the care-taker/gardener, watching her food source (“entire crops and much of the season’s labor”) waste from neglect as her mother’s needs overwhelmed her. Medical emergencies trumped food production. As she says, “When I most needed help, my garden often created pressures and contributed to my problems instead of relieving them.”
There have been many times that I’ve been paralyzed by the thought of continuing our self-reliance adventure alone, without Jay. But really the adventure is meant to be a way of life. How do I adapt our current model to one that works – during what Ms. Deppe calls “Hard times Great and Small”? How do I avoid the pitfalls of the recent past – failing to plant the Fall garden before Winter, losing to the aphids, starving the chickens – while being with Jay during cancer treatments and running our non-profit? How can the garden act as a source of support instead of a neglected burden?
This wacky book, which I found myself skimming after a while upon first-read, is something I’m going to take up again. There is relevant knowledge for me in those pages. These are uncertain times and no time to mess around. And when the miracle comes and we grow to old-age together, how nice it will be to know how to garden with a bad back!