Many, perhaps most people on Cape Cod, have, or have had, a garden. And a garden is, as I have written elsewhere, “something we seek to cordon off from nature, to make over in our own image, to give a shape to…” Perhaps that is why abandoned gardens are so much more poignant than other manifestations of our limited tenancy on the earth.
Gardens disappear for a number of reasons. We may move to a new home, leaving the fate of our old garden to the new owners. We may decide that the time and effort that it takes to maintain a garden are just not worth it and we let it go. Or we may simply become too old to keep it going, so we gradually tend less and less of it, until it disappears completely. The reasons are endless
This year, for reasons too mundane to go into, we didn’t put in a vegetable garden. Oh, Kathy managed to set up her potted herb garden on the deck, so we were still supplied with parsley, basil, rosemary, kale, lemon thyme, and one lonely staked-up tomato plant. But the annual turning up of the three long raised vegetable beds, the digging in of compost, the trimming of the berry bushes, the spreading of marsh-grass mulch gathered from the bay beaches, and a dozen other annual garden chores - just didn’t happen this year.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and that is as true for gardens as for anything. I think I assumed that our garden would just lie fallow until I could restart it next spring. I should have known better. Now, in November, I look out at the garden beds and see that they have been taken over by a thick wall of opportunistic weeds, some as high as five or six feet, most of which I do not recognize. Tall, spear-like weeds rise up through the vines of last year’s strawberry and raspberry plants. Nameless carpets of thick, flat, fuzzy ground cover occupy the plots of tomato, potato, pea and bean plants I had so carefully planted there in previous summers.
So, in one season, without my constant tending, the garden has become overwhelmed with “foreign,” or “illegal” weeds. I should have expected it, but Lord, not so soon – not so fast! I was somewhat appalled by the speed and alacrity with which the non-garden plants took over. It was as if they had been waiting there all this time (which they had) to take over these abandoned beds. So all the designs we so blithely carve into the earth – roads, bridges, dams, schools, churches, playgrounds, houses, golf courses – all disappear practically overnight without our constant supervision and maintenance.
Ultimately, we all have to let go of our gardens – and everything else as well- but unless we plow them under or cover them with turf or pave them over, these forsaken gardens remain visible for years, like fading, gone-wild gravestones of their own making. If I look hard enough I see a landscape dotted with abandoned or about-to-be-abandoned gardens, mute testimony to a universal truth about human desire and nature’s implacable forces.