My husband cringes, probably with good reason, when he sees me pull out the graph paper and pencils in January.
I set up my design station, usually on the dining room table where no one eats anymore. Stacked up are several gardening books, the latest seed catalogs and within the past few years, my laptop computer where I have easy access to my favorite blogs by other gardeners.
Part of my garden design is deciding what to plant. This year, on paper at least, I devoted several square feet of the garden to growing corn. We haven't grown corn in several years after deciding we were spending more time and energy feeding a family of raccoons than what we managed to harvest for ourselves. Instead, we let the local farmers grow the corn, purchased it from them in late summer and preserved it over the winter anyway.
Now that the garden is double-fenced, I've been thinking of trying corn again. But then, after looking at my list of must-have plants, I am asking myself if it is worth it. Is it worth the cost, the effort or the time? And especially, is it worth the garden space?
Years ago, during what I like to call my ''mother earth phase,'' our vegetable garden was much larger. Anything that wasn't eaten or couldn't spoil fast enough was canned, frozen or dried and stored for winter. When the children grew up and went out on their own, we realized we didn't need all those shelves of potatoes, beans, tomato sauce and jelly.
But I'm not ready to give up the garden entirely. It does take effort and time, but I'm willing to put all that into growing tomatoes, peppers and herbs.
When our garden was much larger we didn't mind using valuable space to grow space-eaters, such as shelling-beans. In our winter pantry, we had jars of black beans, butter beans, white pinto, great northern and others that we left dry on the plant and then were shelled by hand before storing. While it was a fun experience to grow our own dried beans, I can't imagine doing it again unless there was a particular variety I wanted that couldn't be found in the stores. It not only takes up a lot of space in the garden, but it also takes a lot of time that includes planting, weeding, harvesting and shelling.
The cost of dried beans is minimal and the garden space and effort could probably better be used growing something else, such as annual herbs. Spices and herbs are much more expensive to buy, but many are extremely easy to grow. The same goes for growing all that corn.
Although I like my ideas when I first come up with them, gardens are ever-changing and things don't always look as good in reality as they do on paper. Last year in the vegetable garden, I planned a walkway that would criss-cross the garden beds. Before the end of summer only part of the walkway was finished, which turned out to be a good thing because this year I've decided the garden shouldn't be divided into fours, but instead should be cut straight down the middle. After all, wide brick walkways eat up valuable plant space and there are too many things to choose from to risk losing places to put them.
Our vegetable garden has grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk a number of times. Right now, it could be called a garden within a garden. It is more difficult to expand now because of the fence, which is there mainly to keep wild critters out of the yard and tame critters out of the vegetables. It has worked well, although I sometimes feel the constraint of my vegetables being fenced in. For this reason, vegetable plants have a way of showing up among the flowers.
Even the herbs have suffered. At first, they were grown closer to the house away from the vegetables until a nearby maple tree began covering them with a canopy of leaves and branches. Then they were grown within the garden proper, which was OK for annual herbs, but not so good for perennials that didn't really have a permanent spot. Now they have their own place again, attached to - but not inside - the garden proper.
While it is important to weigh the cost of what goes into what you're planting against what you will gain, it is doubly important to have fun doing it.