The unexpected occurs in all walks of life, and the kitchen garden should be no exception. While one gardener might carry out exhaustive inspections for signs of plague, improper drainage or drought, and spend hours hoeing and uprooting unwelcome intruders, spraying and fertilizing while striving for a perfect harvest, another rejoices in the novel encounter of a rogue tomato plant among the peppers or a gloriously pink cosmos sprouting unbidden from the zucchini bed. There is much to be said for the exoticism of a purple-and-lime-green-striped hornworm shimmying up the stalk of an aubergine plant. For the record, setting it free in the nearby woods is not the same as throwing it on the concrete walk and smooshing it with one’s boot.
To the untrained eye, certain gardens may appear slapdash and chaotic, overrun to the point where one imagines the gardener has run screaming from the hostile patch of contrariness in frustrated agony, never to return. What may have begun life as an exalted homage to organic cultivation can later seem to be teetering on the edge of succumbence to nature at its most extreme.
Because each gardener has his or her own peculiarly annoying or endearing quirks, gardens tend to range in pretentions from small innovative allotments to grandiose overtures. On the bombastic scale, there may well be a right way and a wrong way to grow a tomato, but on a more individualistic, live-and-let-live order of the universe, a more gentle approach may be embodied in the truism “to each her own”. Where one neighbor prefers to extend his tomato plants over an exuberantly crowded plot, another needs to space her sucker-pruned plants at careful, one-meter intervals. Exactly.
At the end of the day, or the end of the season, what counts is not the final result, although a fully ripe tomato is a lovely thing to eat. What matters is how deeply the nutrition-rich dirt has become embedded under one’s fingernails, a sure sign of absolute communion.