Losing the Garlic

For the first time in five or six years, I haven’t lost the garlic.

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2008: The rose has since been transplanted, after it began taking up too much room in the small garden space.

I plant it in the fall, breaking a few heads up into individual cloves and digging them in like little bulbs. The garlic bed shifts from year to year, as do the locations of most of the garden crops. My riff on crop rotation is a nod to keeping plants and soil healthy, but really I just like the variety. The garden isn’t set up for linear plantings, and I enjoy playing with different combinations and layouts within the framework set by the raised beds and the permanent plants like the tart cherry tree and the ever-sprawling bed of alpine strawberries.

There’s an element of improvisation to the garden, a serendipitous quality that builds up through the summer until it finds full expression in August, when the tightly-planted beds overflow in a feral exuberance of greenery and blossoms.

In the context of this free-form approach, fall-planting garlic stands out as an exercise in advance planning. Since being proactive is not exactly one of my strong suits, I’m always unduly pleased with myself when I manage to accomplish something along those lines. I also like the fact that this one project at season’s end, when gardening tasks are mostly about closure and putting things to rest, requires projecting my mind ahead to the next year, to new beginnings.

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2010: A banner year for the border garden.

Of course, laying plans is not the same thing as making good on them. Once I plant the garlic, I turn off my gardening mind for a few months. March and April are not gardening months up here, but the signs of spring are sufficiently evident to switch on the lights in the little alcove of my brain that likes to grow things. I peruse the seeds I want to plant and start sketching what will end up where.

Which is when I inevitably find myself wondering where I planted the danged garlic. It seems like it will be so obvious, on that fall afternoon when I’ve tucked each aromatic clove in its winter bed. A few months later, I’m looking at the beds, with blown and shattered fibers from last year’s beans and tomatillos strewn over the frosty dirt and dirty shreds of old icy snow, and haven’t got a clue.

The garlic rescues me, though, fulfilling its side of the bargain from the previous fall. Long before I’m ready to put seeds in the ground, the garlic sprouts, announcing its location with slender green shoots.

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2012: Best year ever for beans…and not bad for flowers.

This year, as I said, I haven’t lost the garlic. But this isn’t because a proactive burst met an organizational impulse, leading to me jot a planting note. I haven’t lost the garlic this year because I never got around to planting it in the first place.

I’m trying to convince myself that the blankness of the garden’s slate this year compensates for my lack of effort last fall. This will be a worthwhile experiment, I tell myself, seeing how the garlic fares if it’s spring-planted. I’m usually late to harvest the stuff, anyway, so maybe things will work out and I’ll have perfectly formed and ripened bulbs to show for my lack of diligence last fall. But on these April days, when the wind blows cold and the muddy beds of the garden look vacant and forlorn, I’m missing the promise and the mettle personified by those straight little green shoots, growing taller day by day.

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Garlic shoots pushing through a snowy spring.

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