Novelist | Singer
I plant nasturtiums on the side of my driveway, where the soil is too lousy for most anything to grow. But as long as they get water, those edible delights with their groovy name thrive in the sandy soil. They flower better in poor soil as well.
A nasturtium is useful as well as beautiful. Though you can eat every part; the stems, the leaves and the flowers, there is nothing happier than a dinner plate or salad garnished with the delicate nasturtium flower. And the explosion of peppery delight on your tongue is like a surprise.
I planted the seeds several weeks ago and almost forgot them until I saw the round dark green leaves struggling for purchase among the tenacious weeds that gained a foothold on the driveway’s edge. Every time I walked past on my morning walk with Sailor, I vow that today for sure I would weed that strip to give the nasturtiums a chance. Finally, today, I was forced to put it right at the top of my to-do list. Those nasturtiums won’t survive unless I weed.
Weeding is meditation. Fingers in the soil, probing the strongest part of the plant to pull all the roots out instead of snapping them at the surface. I never wear gloves. Gloves deadened the tactile glee of your hands contacting soil, much like the effect of a condom, though I wouldn’t know, but I’ve been told. In my mind, the gardener must be obligated to use a fingernail brush after working in the soil.
I start in a squat, then switch to bending after a while, knowing my back will revolt in several hours. It is the price I pay for loving the dirt, and it is one I accept willingly. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks when I garden, but today I enjoy the neighborhood sounds of a Sunday morning, the slow waking of human activity as people sleep late, and then decide what to do with their day. It is a gorgeous New England June day—a bit overcast, which is fine by me. I tend to hide from the sun now, but my skin tells the story of many days spent in its full force.
I work my way up to the street, and finally sit on the pavement and weed to the side. Separate the nasturtium from the weed, work my fingers down, grasp firmly and pull gently, coaxing the spidery white roots hanging onto their last gasp of sand from the earth. Separate, grasp, pull, separate, grasp pull, then dump the imposters in my bucket and move onto the next section. Separate, grasp, pull. It is methodical, repetitive. Soon I am in a weed-pulling trance that ends only when I look back down the driveway and realize I am done. I come slowly out of my weeding trance and admire my work. My nasturtiums are released from their competitors and are free to flower. That is the other thing about weeding—it is one of the most gratifying activities I know.
I dunk my watering can into the rain barrel and water gently. The soil here tends to repel water that falls too fast. The driveway weeding exercise has given me motivation to pull my bolted greens from their beds and replant the extra seed that I saved just for this purpose. Again, I separate, grasp and pull and soon the beds are clean and ready for new life. All the yard waste lands in the compost pile where it will create next year’s soil. The greens beds are clean and black from my watering can, and my mouth smiles with the thought of salad made with mesclun, romaine, red lettuce and upland water cress. I hope my weed trance will last for several more hours.