The Smithsonian Please…..

August 7, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Gardening, Vermont

I can just imagine the headlines: Rainforest Tours in Vermont! The little local newspapers are always on the look out for the quaint or the quirky and unfortunately we may just qualify….again.

It has been raining up here for days. July recorded the highest rainfall of any July since 1800 according to the Fairbank’s Museum in Waterbury who keeps track of these things. They say that the Farmer’s Almanac used to keep the records and going way back it isn’t until the year 1800 that there was more than this. We have had over a foot just in July alone. Typically July boasts only two or three inches. And of course this was the year that we planted our first ever humble little vegetable garden.

I had been feeling pretty smug about our charming small patch. Oh, every couple of days I would let two or three chickens into the garden where I would sprinkle corn on all the weeds. They would root around and scratch and eat, and by noon the score would be chickens one hundred and three/weeds zero. Burt everyone has heard the old phrase ‘mad as a wet hen”. Well, chickens like other feathered critters do not like to get wet. Thus they have been particularly perturbed by all this rain. It gets down into their feathers and can cause sickening mold growing bacteria to form. Chickens understand this inherently and run into their house at the first sign of a drizzle. They are known for sunny day dust baths in the pine needles where they can get dry down to the ends of their quills. So no coaxing or bribing would entice any chicken worth her salt into the garden when the air is green and smells like rain. Nevermind that I would hustle them right back into the hen house if drops fell. They don’t trust my promises and nothing has been enticing them out.

So my garden has fended for itself. And now it looks like a very pretty and quite wild rainforest has sprung up out there. The tomato plants, all heirloom, some of them are now nine or ten feet tall. The Swiss chard and the zucchini blossoms are trailing out of the fence and this morning I found an accidental 2 foot long zucchini that had been hiding I swear until just today. I found some English beans that I had forgotten about, but I cannot find the Romaine anywhere at all. I had a hankering for a Cesar salad for lunch and there was gobs of Romaine out there just the other day so I know damn well that it is still there. Only where is the question. There are hundreds of green tomatoes waiting for a little sunshine to turn red and ripe. The basil has big frothy fans of Queen Anne’s lace growing up and all around it. The Lace is a couple of feet high and it is choking the basil bushes. It was not there last weekend. Well, it wasn’t! And there are these lovely white flowers everywhere absolutely chocking the life out of everything else. A few inches of rain, no chickens and the thing looks like something maybe I should call the Smithsonian about. Steven King could plot a whole series of weird plant related killings out there. There are these tall blue scratchy things that I don’t think we planted. They are everywhere. And they have thorns. On the plus side the butterflies seem to like them, so this morning I pretended I put them there precisely to attract butterflies which after all are a nice addition to any garden. And then my feet got tangled up in some gnarly winding thing that has obliterated our neat little blue rock paths and I slipped and fell in the mud. Sitting there contemplating the havoc I discovered a huge head of cauliflower that was not visible at my former height. The aforementioned monster zucchini was discovered from that same slippery vantage point.

Nearby stands our cheerful satisfying little chicken house. It looks like a child’s drawing of a house with big red doors and green peaked roof topped off by a crowing rooster weathervane. Inside sit my weeders cackling and clucking and doing nothing much at all about the mess just outside their house. I went in there this morning aiming to carry a couple out and force them by God to weed. After all they had their favorite left over spaghetti for breakfast. It was time they earned their keep. Only just as I started sprinkling the corn the rain started in again. It was coming down sideways by the time I got back inside. Now, looking out the screened porch I think I just might spy the Romaine. It is next to something that looks like Brussels sprouts. Huh…I forgot all about those….


  • library lady

    If the Girls continue to shirk their weeding responsibilities, you could casually mention that you have a friend who has a great chicken and rice recipe. Of course they know you too well to believe that–although I do have such a recipe. I can see that you are struggling to get into a when-life-give-you-lemons frame of mind. A plop in the mud in exchange for a monster cauliflower and a mutant zucchini is the vegetable equivalent of lemonade. (I also have a good recipe for Turkish zucchini!)

  • Susiewearsthepants

    LOL-that is too funny! Oh wait, you did tell the story to amuse didn’t you? Anyway, me being a city girl, I had NO IDEA about the disgusting bacteria chickens can get from being wet. I also didn’t know that you can use chickens to weed your garden. I love this post, it cracked me up.

  • Kate

    I like the idea of a lavishly overgrown garden. But then again, it’s not mine to tend…. I can picture it though! And I actually can picture your plop in the mud quite well, since that’s usually MY role in life – to fall whenever humanly possible.

    The gardens here are brown and dry. They aren’t nearly as lush as yours, and I’m jealous of that kind of wet – I know you’re not, but when I lived in NC, it rained almost every afternoon from 3-4. You could set your clock by it.

  • starrlife

    yep- It’s a rainforest year! Those lovely white flowers sound like Moonflower vines, wild, invasive relative to MorningGlories. And the blue thornies sound like Thistles- birds and butterflies do like them. Veggie gardens look lush when let go like this- it’s wild isn’t it! Maybe we’ll have a lovely fall!

  • Anonymous

    Who said neat gardens were a virtue? I like big messy and wild much better….

  • molls

    I have often thought we should call the Smithsoinian to come and see the alien life forces living in our closets too. Great post e….

  • beesknees

    So surprises are good, right? If you could see it all in neat rows every day there wouldn’t be any of those now would there????

  • ILX

    ILX said he has this image of you plopping down in the mud, poor dear…just going keeersplaatt with mud oozzing and flying everywhere, kinda of like a…well never mind. I hope you weren’t hurt. I think I recall an episode of I Lucy Love in the rain and mud camping or something and becoming absolutely bedraggled…cheerio…a tot of sherry always helps…

  • Angela

    Oh I need some chickens. Pronto.

  • Bia

    Oh, I don’t know…your garden sounds like it’s hiding all sorts of wonderful surprises.

    Send some rain down south as we desperately need some!

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