Sunday, January 9, 2011

Delusions of Grandeur

or In Which We Refuse to Believe That Less Is More

Small dogs have their own burdens to bear.  It can't be easy to have the instincts of a guardian, a large and noble beast, a lion-hearted predator, and then to have the body of, essentially, prey.  One of my neighbors has a toy poodle—a little dust mop of a dog who barks maniacally every time you walk past.  She sounds like she means business until the moment you turn and look at her, at which point you can see her doing some quick math problems in her little head, calculating relative sizes, force vectors, speeds, distances, and levels of irritation.  After a rather painful moment of "ah," she turns tail and runs around the corner, from which point of safety she can resume barking.  But she knows, and you know, and she knows you know, that from then on it's all show, pure bravado with no substance behind it.

When I'm working in the garden, the poodle seems more curious than territorial.  Our houses are separated by a five-foot high concrete wall, which she obviously can't see over, but she can hear me moving around.  She comes over to the wall, puts her nose to the half-inch wide gap between two of the blocks, and sniffs large, purposeful sniffs.  The gap works like an echo-chamber—it magnifies the noise and makes her sound more like a Rottweiler than like a six-pound bundle of fluff and nerves.  It is a sound that does her heart justice; she must find it incredibly satisfying.

I've been taking advantage of mild weather this weekend to wander around the garden and make plans for winter cleanup and spring planting.  In particular I was pondering the microgarden, which is a blank slate at this point.  Normally it would have some cold-weather greens overwintering in it, along with maybe a last carrot or two that I'm saving to brighten a dreary day, and some perennials like chives and bunching onions.  The aphids ran so far amok last fall, though, that I ended up emptying the bed completely and now have the pleasure of refilling the whole thing at once.  I'm contemplating soil mixtures, compost, pest control, organic fertilizers, and other things of that ilk.  Oh, and seeds.

Lots of seeds.

Keep in mind that the microgarden is a two foot by four foot raised bed, divided into about 30 growing cells of different sizes.  It is not a large space; its growing potential may be impressive for its size, but it is hardly what we would call unlimited.  And into these eight square feet, according to my current seed list, I am planning to put twelve varieties of greens; two kinds each of carrots,  radishes, and onions; peppers, squash, garlic, cucumbers, Chinese long beans, tomatillos, basil, marigolds...

I was sitting on the blue bench in the garden being serenaded by the ferocious sniffing of poodles while I looked over the seed list, when suddenly the absurdity of it hit me and I burst out laughing.  (Maniacal barking from across the wall.)  Apparently miniature dogs aren't the only ones with delusions of grandeur.  Are three varieties of chard and four of amaranth really necessary to my health and happiness?  Chinese long beans may be a good idea for a small space in principle, but is a ten-foot tall vine (starting from three feet off the ground) really going to be all that easy to harvest?  Will all of these tall plants really be able to grow in such a small area without shading each other?  Do I really expect this to be the year that squash vine borers and cucumber beetles leave my squash and cucumbers alone? 

Well, really, the answer to all of those questions is, "No."  But what does reality have to do with gardening?  Okay, with results, sure, maybe a lot, but with the hopes and dreams of seed buying?  With winter plans? With the visions of bounty that tide us through the colder months, of vine leaves spilling prolifically over the sides of the garden, of the earthy sweetness of baby carrots, of the scent of basil as you accidentally brush against a leaf, of the gleam of marigolds against the greenery?  Reality has just enough to do with those visions to keep me dreaming big dreams—Rottweiler dreams, wolf dreams.

But it's still just a miniature poodle garden.


  1. It's one of the better things about human nature, I think, that we forget last season's failures while contemplating the coming season's glories. Enjoy your winter planning. And the tiny cowardly lion next door.

  2. Seed catalogs and seed packets are pure porn to a gardener. They show you the possibilities but not the practicalities of your situation. For me it is dealing with shade. Very few of the most colorful of plants is conditioned to live in a shade environment. So I have to live with ferns, hostas and the like. But it is sort of fun to dream on with the sun lovers of the gardening world....

  3. I have noticed that the smaller a dog is, the more ferociously it attempts to bark. There is a tiny black long-haired something-or-other pooch a few houses down that thinks it is actually terrorizing the neighborhood. Apart from the noise, it is pretty much ineffectual.

    In the back yard of the rental across the street, however, there are two large boxers. They did the territorial barking for a little while until I greeted them in a pleasant voice and they realized I was never going to do anything more harmful than retrieve the mail from my mailbox. Now they just watch me stroll to the mailbox and actually seem a bit pleased to see me.

  4. Zoe--Yes--every season is a whole new ballgame!

    Mark--We all just drool over those catalogs, don't we? Shade gardens always look so refreshing, and ferns are wonderfully pre-historic, but I don't suppose you have a lot of variety to choose from. :/

    klbrowser--I think with the smaller dogs, too, people tend not to train them as well. Behavior that you just couldn't accept from a large dog is overlooked in a smaller one. But then there's the whole Napoleon complex...