Growing for Keeps

by Sarah West


We associate summer and autumn with garden preserving, that exhausting chase to pocket as much wealth as possible. Yet, spring is an equally valuable time to ponder the pantry, taking stock of the jars that are still around, what we liked, what we haven’t reached for in months. I tend to overload my shelves, making more jars of pickled peppers or berry jams than I can reasonably eat in one year, letting the inventory carry over and allowing myself space to try a new recipe without foregoing those I know I like.

As spring freshness enters our lives, it is good to let go of old baggage—last year’s dried herbs, frozen vegetables cocooned by ice crystals, garden seeds too old to germinate reliably. Give them to the compost pile; open a place for the next flush of whimsy and effort you already anticipate. Starting again reminds us that even in water-bath-sealed jars we cannot hold our ambitions for long; they will grow again outside the borders we have arbitrated.

In spring I look for new things—new herbs to grow that will spark culinary diversions, new varieties of my favorite vegetables, new crops entirely that spoke to my imagination from the seed catalog. Even though they are established, I make annual adjustments and add this or that to bare spots in the perennial borders, invigorating their character.

And though I adore sitting among a garden in full bloom, I love May evenings spent gazing into the verdant fire of a garden quickening. Persephone, goddess of the spring, who is bound to live a portion of each year in Hades, returns to the surface now, riding the life force of new shoots and unfolding leaves, shaking off the damp underworld for a spell in the fresh air.

Spring’s cult is movement, and we are never quite ready for it. Each year I sigh that there is not enough time for the work, but who am I to bridle Persephone’s entrance? Symbol of the waxing and waning of beginnings and endings, all movement satiates her, whether it completes a task or leaves many unfinished.

There is a wave of essences approaching. Each week it will expand and diversify until just being in the garden will feel like a walk through Eden, reaching your hand out to meet divinity each time. It is an impossible fortune, this abundance, which we seem to stumble upon as if by accident no matter how much effort we have made to get there. When I kneel by the basil to pick a handful of opulent fragrance, it still feels like a gift. I am not exchanging labor for food, but love for love. In the garden, both are free and freely given.

Our gardens grow with us, shape our days and our pantry as our pantry and our days shape them. What we keep is the momentum: lessons begetting experiments, receiving born again as giving, the familiar rising up as something new.