If I let the summer disappear without writing an annual thought about my garden, some readers will ask. I could sum it up this way: This year I ignored it. Mostly.
But there’s a better answer, and here’s what really happened. Every gardener knows that a summer harvest begins the autumn before. Last fall an illness in my family had me preoccupied (“Failure to thrive,” Sept. 21, 2013). Tomato vines molded and covered the soil, bug-eaten greens turned brown and died, then leaves fell to cover all. With winter came frost, then snow, then sub-zero temperatures. The ground heaved without a proper mulching and slept on.
With spring came travel then two graduations in my family and all the “lasts” that go with them. I had an afternoon to clear the debris of two seasons. I discovered my hasty clipping of a treasured eucalyptus in winter (for bouquets at a family wedding) had killed it. But way down under dried leaves some bitter arugula sprouts greeted me, plus a sprig of artichoke, new growth from a long-dead plant.
Spring planting? I missed it (see events, above). May and June brought an unseasonable drought. I had another afternoon to plant some late seeds but the ground wouldn’t give. A pickaxe couldn’t turn such hard pack. That’s when I realized—for the first time in a decade or more—there would be no garden this year. In a gesture of surrender after a pathetic July shower, I pushed into the ground a few also pathetic seedlings, leftovers on a hardware store sale rack: one cucumber, two tomato, and two green pepper plants.
Then here’s what the garden did: It gave back anyway.
Fifteen artichokes spiked from the once-tiny sprig, which grew to a monster bush. Fifteen! Straggly tomato and pepper plants are giving a steady supply, mocking my low expectations. Swiss chard flushed out in late summer, a complete surprise, in an otherwise empty bed.
Everywhere I started noticing a bountiful harvest from my neglect. Dahlias and last year’s marigolds came back, cleome and spires of tall verbena bloomed profusely where I’ve never planted them. Morning glories, that dread weed, are giving a welcome show of white and purple.
Put me to the test, says the Lord, and see “if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil. … Then all the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight” (Malachi 3:10–12).
The world is full up with destruction, and my bent is to see it without bothering to dig for the tiny sprigs of green beneath, or wait for the due season of harvest. Are there spouts of hope today in Liberia, Iraq, Ukraine, and Ferguson, Mo.? Absolutely. But they may not be the ones you or I planted, or expect, so we might ignore them unless we look harder.
“For God judged it better,” wrote Augustine, “to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” Felix culpa, or happy fault, he called it. In this business of reporting unhappy faults—disasters, drought, war, crime, and epidemic—journalists miss out, too busy looking at the next calamity to see a bounty coming right behind.
A month ago the press gave dire accounts of the Mississippi River in one of its most severe barge stoppages in memory. Floodwaters had deposited silt enough to halt barge traffic: At one point, $50 million in commodities sat stranded in St. Paul. Cement and road salt needed across the South might not make it before winter. Two-thirds of all U.S. grain shipped on the waterway to New Orleans might not arrive either.
You can read the dire accounts online. But you will have a harder time finding out how the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard battled the clock to open temporary pilot channels that let the barges through in August—a miracle of ingenuity and effort the rest of us enjoy as undeserved bounty. That is, if we have eyes to see it.