The Nature of a Garden

Jack Savage | August 18, 2012

If any of the local agricultural fairs had a category for garden weeds, I would be a sure-fire blue-ribbon winner this year. And if you got bonus points for the size and number of bugs munching on your weed-patch, I would sweep the awards.

Last year was different. Last year the vegetable garden was spectacular, as just about every seed I dropped in the ground yielded something edible. The vegetables got the upper hand early, built momentum and the weeds never stood a chance. I did lose early rows of beans to some nocturnal visitors of the four-legged kind, but some additional fencing kept the replacements from suffering a similar fate. A late-season storm felled some of the corn, but even then I was able to conduct a salvage operation for most of the edible ears.

This year, however, I have not been so lucky and the garden is currently in a sad state. Not only did I lose the annual battle with weeds, but a deer and its fawn have made the garden into their personal snacking ground. The pair took up residence in a nearby thicket for the summer, made friends with the horses, and now make a daily leap over the garden fence to sample the offerings. The only thing they’ve left behind for me are the weeds and the zucchini. And since you can’t give zucchini away I’ve taken to smuggling them into grocery stores and putting them with the other “Italian squash”. (Not really, but it’s a good idea don’t you think?)

Thankfully, no one relies on my poor gardening skills for sustenance. And there are more opportunities than ever to get fresh, locally grown produce, whether from the neighbor down the street or a more formal CSA. Just last week I had the pleasure of discovering a new farmstand and pick-your-own operation in Boscawen, where I snagged some blueberries and tomatoes. Heathfield ( is operated by Hillary Thomas and Ben Minerd on 10 acres of the Pustizzi Fruit Farm, and this year I’m happy to have them worry about the weeds while I focus on the eating.

At the Forest Society we often use the kitchen garden as an analogy for managing our forests. Although in New Hampshire we don’t typically need to plant trees to grow a forest, we do weed and thin. We plan for a particular kind of crop based on the characteristics of the site—soil, sun, and water. And, as with a garden, it is often the case that we find our efforts subject to things beyond our control—an abundance of moose browsing on young hardwoods that the forester had hoped would mature over the years, or a windstorm that suddenly fells a stand of white pine that wasn’t scheduled for harvest just yet.

Gardening—whether for food or flowers—remains one of the most common ways we are connected to the land. Just about anyone can find a few square feet of ground to get into the game, and increasingly there are more community gardens that allow even a dirtless apartment-dweller to scratch their gardening itch. The simple act of filling your fridge at least occasionally from a farmstand on the land where things are grown instead of from inside and air-conditioned supermarket is a healthy reminder of the land-based resources that sustain us.

Jack Savage is the editor of Forest Notes, the quarterly magazine of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. He can be reached at