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Hortus in Urbe: Introducing Garden in the City

LINCOLN SQUARE — Thirty-two square feet.

That's my claim to the new urban homesteader's dream: A patch of land — actually a 4-by-8-foot raised bed — to grow my own food.

I've gardened for as long as I can remember, the odd kid who would actually beg to trim the hedges. But I'm relatively new to the herb and vegetable scene, having joined Peterson Garden Project in 2012 when PGP opened Global Garden within walking distance of where I live.

I have to say, as an introduction to gardening, last summer sucked.

Before the heat and drought crushed my wildly overambitious expectations, I remember telling my husband, Dave, "Poor HarvesTime [our local produce market]. We're going to put them out of business."

Yeah, that didn't happen.

Our squash and zucchini succumbed to vine borer and some sort of leaf mold. The dill went to seed before I figured out how to harvest it. (And yes, "harvest" became part of my vocabulary instead of "pick.")

Our melons — which truly are an advanced placement crop — reached baseball size and then promptly rotted. Good thing I didn't invest heavily in canning equipment, because by August, I had enough tomatoes for ... a salad.

So, of course when Peterson Garden Project sent out the registration email for returning gardeners, I responded with an enthusiastic yes.

"I'm calling myself a red-shirt freshman," I told Dave.

His retort: "You mean because you still don't know crap but it's your second year?"


Actually, I learned quite a bit in 2012.

I learned not to plant spinach in July. I learned that squash vines are prickly and capable of drawing blood. I learned that devoting space to sage is pointless if you only plan on using a couple of sprigs in October.

But I also learned where food comes from.

I watched blossoms magically transform into peppers, cantaloupes and strawberries. I snipped basil and it kept coming back. After tending sweet potato vines for months, I finally put my hands into the dirt and dug up clusters of orange globules, which felt a bit like unearthing buried treasure.

It was a revelation watching vegetables spring to life (even if they ultimately crapped out on me), as opposed to appearing fully formed on shelves in the supermarket.

More than anything, I came to enjoy the process just for the simplicity and clarity it provided.

There are plenty of gardeners out there who are in it for noble reasons like sustainability. Me, I'm in it for the peace and quiet.

There's no wi-fi in the garden, you can't text or email with a trowel or hose in your hand. It's where I go to disconnect and clear my head of clutter. You know what I think about when I'm weeding, watering and pruning? Weeding, watering and pruning.

So yeah, I can't wait to give it another try.

Next week: What we're planting.