Maybe You Can’t See the Garden Path, But You Can Still Harvest The Fruit

What do Martha Stewart, P. Allen Smith, and Michelle Obama have in common?  They all tend  “immaculate gardens”, or they did, that is, up until the recent government shutdown.  Now, however, it appears the First Lady has more in common with us regular gardeners, than the gardening royals, Stewart and Smith (and I mean that in the most respectful way, ’cause I love their immaculate gardens!)  As the Huffington Post has reported: “The normally immaculate [White House Kitchen] garden [looks] more like what most gardeners’ plots appear at this time of year – overgrown.”  – errrmmm…

overgrown weeds

please excuse the mess

Eddie Gehman Kohan, founder and editor of Obama Foodorama, says that, as a direct result of the government shutdown, the First Lady’s Garden is “wrecked” as “The showcase plot is filled with unharvested vegetables and weeds, and wildlife running amok”


awww…but they’re so cute!  …ehem.

But, I say, welcome to the real world of gardening, Mrs. Obama, where us regular gardeners – the ones who do all of the work ourselves – have learned that the keeping of immaculate gardens…

mom's garden

thank you for looking so good for this photo shoot!

…is not anywhere near as important as the tending of a living, growing, producing, decaying, ever-metamorphosizing and holistic plot of land that we lovingly call our – anything but immaculate – garden.


my realistic garden

Yes, just as “Weeds are springing up everywhere” around the White House Kitchen Garden, so they are out at My Happy Homestead, Whit’s Acres, too!  Try, as I might, to keep those pesky space invaders out, there’s just no end to them all.  I mean, can you even spot the peas in this sea of weeds???

peas lost in weeds

I call it garden camo

“Before the shutdown”, according to Ms. Kohan,  “brown and yellow leaves were immediately whisked away” from the garden.”   The brown and yellow leaves are really starting to multiply in my garden, too, now.  It is fall, after all.  Should I fret? Put one of my kids to whisk them away? No.  They make great compost!!!  And, I actually think they are quite beautiful.  They add character and realism to my garden.  They remind me that life is never static, but always changing.   They encourage me to welcome each new season that God is bringing into my life.

yarrow seedhead

grean bean leaf

artichoke seedhead

welcome, fall!

Prior to the shutdown, at the Kitchen Garden, “diseased or bug-infested plants were removed” as well, she says, rather than simply left “mouldering on the ground” … mine…

old squash

old watermelon

future – great – volunteer, I say!

In the real world of gardening, pests do abound, as Mrs. Obama is finding out, from this example given on the blog, “The wildlife that lives on the historic 18-acre campus–including a newly arrived fox now making a home at the White House–are having a field day.”  Oh, man.  Tell me about it.  Out at My Happy Homestead, squashes get buried…

buried squash…lawns get punctured…

gopher hole

…and tunnels get dug to Kingdom Come, on a daily basis,  by all of the wildlife that have “made themselves at home out here!”

squirrel tunnels

I can’t even begin to tell you how many ripe, crispy apples, sumptuous strawberries, and red-ripe raspberries and grapes I’ve lost to ants, squirrels, and birds, and I could still go on and on about all that cute wildlife that lives around here!  But, I won’t.  I’ll just tell you that I’ve learned to deal with it.  Great gardens attract great wildlife – both good and bad, and that’s just a fact.

Another fact is that plants get messy, in a garden.  They are living, growing, things, afterall.  In pristine gardens, however, this is frowned upon.  Plants are expected to behave themselves.  At the White House, apparently “The tomato plants are now an impressive tangle of browning vines, with ripe Sungolds littering the ground beneath” , says Kohan.  “Growth in the garden has been rapid.  The stepping stone pathways can barely be seen between the bed boxes.”  Oh, my! In my garden, the tangling tomato vines are one of my most favorite sites!  I love the rustic look of the rambling beauties, especially when they are filtering the bright morning sunlight through their boughs…

tumbling tomato

And plants that spill over their containers onto the walkways are equally just as charming…

straw walkway

a lot of people pay good money to get this look!

In the course of a year (sometimes longer for bi-annual plants), growth stops, and plants begin to set seed.   It’s just a fact. For most of us gardeners, who planted out heirloom seed at the beginning of the season, this is a welcome sight!  True, the harvest of the fruit has come to an end, but a new harvest is just beginning – the harvest of ‘free’ seed for next year’s garden…

basil blooms

lime basil in bloom

radish bloom

China Rose Radish in bloom

At the White House garden, unfortunately, seed-setting is called into question.  As Kohan says, “Most of the herbs in the garden, including the Pineapple sage and white basil, have gone to seed…  Perhaps America’s best-known presidential gardener [Thomas Jefferson] would have much to say about the current state of affairs in DC–as a farmer, and as a statesman astonished by partisan brinksmanship [causing it all]”.  Well, from what I know about Thomas Jefferson, as a gardener, I don’t think he’d be astonished by those tiny, little basil blooms at all.  He’d know exactly what to do with them. Perhaps here’s what he’d say:  “Hang them out to dry, then strip them from their stems, sift the seed from the chaff, and store them in a cool, dark place until next spring when they’ll grace your “immaculate” White House Kitchen garden with their vibrant color, aroma, and stature once again, and not ask the American taxpayer to foot the bill, ever again, for new basil seed.”

Perhaps he’d have even more to say about the White House lawn where, because of the shutdown, groundskeepers are not “allowed to mow the grass, [and therefore]  clover, buttercups and weeds have sprouted in between the unraked leaf litter on both the South and North Lawns.”  Ah, yes, the dreaded “weeds” in the pristine lawn.  What would Mr. Jefferson have to say about that?

barley millet in grass

Maybe he’d say, “Put the chickens to them!” (like we do)

chicken tractor

“They LOVE clover, and all kinds of weeds, and they fertilize the grass for a pinch of chicken feed!”

In fact, the only thing Mr. Jefferson would have been astonished at, I think, is the complete lack of attention that has been paid to this garden during the government shutdown.  The fact that “okra in the back of the garden has soared to over eight feet tall, but the many ready-to-harvest pods remain on the plants, as do new blossoms, and the sweet potatoes–a favorite of President Barack Obama’s, are especially abundant this autumn,  but this year’s orange behemoths remain in the ground as worm food” because  “gardeners are not allowed to harvest the crops” because of government furloughs  would have been sickening to Mr. Jefferson, I think.   “Let’s get out there and get that okra picked, and those weeds weeded, and those varmint trapped, and those seeds collected!” I think he’d say. I can just hear him admonishing Mrs. Obama, “Let’s Move!

Okay, these are all my words.  Just the words of a simple gardener. But, for most gardeners, stuff happens!  Plants grow, set seed, and die.  They yellow and brown.  They don’t always grow in a neat and tidy manner.  They get invaded by ouside forces.  There is always something looming on the horizon.  Not even Martha Stewart,  P. Allen Smith, nor Mrs. Obama can escape that.   Most gardeners, however,  don’t sit around and wait for someone else (especially not the government) to take control of their garden problems.  We roll up our sleeves and get it done, ourselves.  We tend to the weeds, pests, and rotting food.  for a moment, yes, we may even get to experience the “immaculate” garden.  But, then it’s right back to the battle — our imperfect, weedy, yellowing, pock-marked gardens come right back, and they are still wonderful and amazing!  Most gardener’s plots show the heart and conviction of  real gardeners who keep on gardening — keep on moving forward — to provide food for their families, friends, clients … no matter what, even in times of great financial stress and burden.

As the government shutdown comes to an end, and the White House Kitchen Garden gets whipped back into its pristine shape; as Mrs. Obama’s Kitchen Garden, once again, becomes “to a backyard plot as a Bentley is to a VW Bug”,  the fact that it once had something in common with “most gardener’s plots” will become a fleeting memory.

The lesson learned, from Ms. Kohan’s blog post, however, is that,  although the White House Kitchen Garden may be a Bentley, when the government ceases to function, the VW Bugs will be left standing — and providing food for thousands upon thousands — in spite of all of those pesky weeds and plants covering our garden paths.


2 thoughts on “Maybe You Can’t See the Garden Path, But You Can Still Harvest The Fruit

  1. I have enjoyed reading so many of your posts, but I have to confess, I think this one is a favorite. Perhaps it’s because it gives me the assurance that even the the most devoted & faithful gardeners don’t have it all together. It gives me hope that I can still enjoy working & harvesting from a garden even if I don’t keep up with it in the way that I aspired too. It involves continual learning & failure on some levels, but better to try than to never try at all. We will never achieve perfection this side of heaven, so why worry so much about it and let it hold us back from trying again. I also enjoyed your take on Thomas Jefferson’s likely logic on the White House garden. 🙂
    I feel so much better after reading this tonight. Thank you for sharing your realistic garden!!

    • Oh, I’m glad to hear it encouraged you! It was a risk for me to write it. I didn’t want to come off too arrogant, and I also wanted to vulnerably share the “real” side of my garden. It’s easy to get caught up in striving for perfection, when it comes to gardening. Just like little girls who compare themselves to magazine models and don’t feel adequate, we can do exactly the same with our gardens. Even though I’d love to have a P. Allen Smith garden, I need to be content with the garden I’ve got. I’ll keep working on aesthetics, but I never want to sacrifice function and production for looks. I will always strive to keep improving and learning and will never give up, no matter how many failures I have because each non-success is an opportunity to try again at success! Keep at it, Michelle, I have no doubt you will create something amazing and successful!

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