The connection between gardening and writing is not new
Both require patience, planning, care – as Karen Pierce explains on Fairy Blog Mother. There are clear analogies to be drawn between cultivation, fertile soil and growth with both activities.
Gardening is my escape, my ‘disruption’ activity that balances my time writing. Although given we’re at the height of the Australian summer with regular 40-plus degree (104 Fahrenheit) days peppering each week, the bulk of my ‘gardening’ currently consists of drinking coffee while watering the fruit and veggies early every morning and undertaking some light weeding and pruning while still in my pyjamas.
It’s been a weird run of weather. Several days of unseasonable rain kicked some of the veg into action early, and the up-and-down heat has others not knowing what to do. We’ve had some die without reason, and others enter a second flush of fruiting.
And this can be a lot like writing. Whether the cause is too small a bed, the wrong position or more chook poo needed, some stories are like plants.
Unusually small fruit and hundreds of runners. This is a story that looks green and healthy, but little side ideas and plots draw you away from the main game. This may be one you’ve worked on for some time, and the fruit may have been flavourful and abundant last season, but this year you’re getting nothing other than a heap of flowers and a few pea-sized berries. The bed may be overcrowded, the pollination’s lacking, or the idea’s run its course and it’s time to move on.
Solution: Cut the runners and plant elsewhere for future cultivation. Focus on the existing plot to encourage fruiting, but be prepared to pull the lot out and start again.
A: Flowers and fruits but one day the tiny lemons are laying scattered around the base. There’s so much promise but one stiff breeze and the premise falls apart.
B: You see a large green lemon amid the branches – but it turns out to be a dark fruit-shaped leaf. Your eureka moment is gone and you wonder how you even saw it in the first place.
Solution: Lemons are notoriously fickle plants – at least for me. Avoid.
You’ve stripped the crop. After pruning back the canes, flowers and berries develop on the end of long, whippy new growth on a variety that supposedly fruits on two-year-old stock. This is like writing into a story, writing around a story - writing and writing until you hit the sweet spot.
Solution: Who cares if the plant shouldn’t be producing for another year? Are the berries delicious? Cut the fruit from that long cane and devour it!
You know you should stake and prune the plant as it grows. You know, theoretically, that limiting the laterals will produce more, better-quality fruit. Like starting a story without a clear structure, you ignore this as early on the plant seems small. Then whooshka! Laterals and subplots appear from every angle, each with tresses of little red darlings that you can’t bring yourself to sacrifice. Soon the plant has taken over, run across the ground, smothered other plants and the fruit is being eaten by insects before you can get to it.
Solution: Prune that plant and stake it from day one.
The capsicum (pepper)
The plants look tiny. They've been struggling with the heat. You’ve been watering for weeks for no result, while the chilli in the same bed is covered with fruit. Spicy, mouth-searing chillies. You know because you tasted one. Lucky you had your coffee to get rid of the burning. This is similar to chipping away at a piece, wondering why it isn't happening, while someone you know effortlessly comes up with a hot take. Anyhow, one morning you see a capsicum – it’s small and green, but it’s there! This is no lemon moment. Then you see another capsicum – and another! They’re not big enough or ripe enough to eat yet, but they’re on their way.
Solution: Keep on keeping on. Don’t pick too early – harvest at the opportune moment. And you can be guaranteed that no matter how effortless someone else's work might seem, they've spend a lot of time tilling the soil. You just didn't know about it.
A cross between the capsicum and raspberry - in a literary sense. An unexpected but not-quite-formed kernel. On a plant that’s a year off fruiting, you discover about a dozen ripe berries hiding under the leaves.
Solution: Taste one – it’s still tart. There’s potential, but the fruit is unlikely to be edible this season. Strip the berries and allow the plant to take a stronger hold in the soil. You’ll get better fruit next time.
The carrot flower
This is an unharvested carrot that’s been allowed to flower and will soon go to seed. Apart from being beautiful, these flowers attract beneficial insects such as bees and ladybugs. Sure, it’s strangling one of the capsicum plants, but there’s plenty more peppers in that peck.
Solution: Think of these plants as writing exercises – they’re not designed to be ‘fruitful’, but can bring in elements that prove helpful to the rest of the garden.
The surprise seedling
Usually a tomato. It'll come up without any planning or effort, springing to life out of the compost. With a little attention this will become the tastiest veg in the garden.
Solution: Enjoy it when it happens. Like a story idea that flows from your fingers and turns out to be the best thing you've ever written, this is a rare and valuable thing. Don't let it rot on the vine.