We've started work on our garden. So far, we've had about two days of really good weather, and still, the weeds have gotten such a head start on us that it's hard to believe. Michael turned a small plot of land to plant a kitchen garden of sorts - a few zucchini and cucumber plants, maybe a tomato plant or two. Some parsley and other herbs. Normally I wouldn't even attempt tomatoes here in Germany without a greenhouse. But this corner is warm and right up against the house.
Having a garden is a luxury. Working a garden is payment for that luxury. Coaxing plants to come alive - and wishing others away. I'm having my arguments right now with one of the most invasive weeds I know - stinging nettles. This plant has taken over a large section of our property. This year my plan is to try and keep two areas clear of it - our new vegetable patch and and area of the yard that butts up to my pottery studio. I've spent days digging up the root systems, knowing full well I can't get all of them. But I will keep trying.
We have a small hill which is covered with stinging nettles. I'm leaving this hill for this year because we can't do everything. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with stinging nettles. Brennessel in German, and the romantic ortica in Italian. In Italy, stinging nettles are widely used as an alternative to spinach. They are wildly tasty when they are simply blanched and sauteed in a bit of garlic and olive oil. The trick is to pick them, wearing gloves, when the leaves are young. A quick blanching removes the stingers completely. I'll be putting up a recipe soon, because in a few weeks the nettles on the hill will be mature enough to make ravioli d'ortica - nettle ravioli. One of my very favorite ravioli recipes.
But for now I'm getting rid of winter's wrath and trying to bring some semblance of order to the garden so that we can enjoy it. We have old stone walls that are starting to tumble in places, but I push the stones back so that they stay another season. Gardening is always trying to work with and fight nature at the same time.
More than the garden itself, I'm so taken in by the garden within the garden - the small things that are so precious and sweet in the spring as plants stretch as far as they can to feel the sun's warming rays. I dig, my hands raw, my cuticles already peeling from days and days of working with clay in the studio - but I try to untangle nettle roots from baby plants trying to survive and find the most beautiful things in the process.
I struggle a lot. With creativity and moving forward and what the future will look like. Gardening helps me stay focused on the present. While sitting a good while in the dirt yesterday, I soaked in the warm sunshine and allowed my thoughts to wander. I tried to save as much of the wild garlic as I could, but some tiny bulbs came out on their own, and I carefully put them aside for dinner.
Later on, I chopped up some tomatoes (still greenhouse Italian ones - can't wait for the real thing!) and mushrooms, and a bit of actual garlic, along with this wild garlic. I made up a batch of fresh pasta and dinner was sorted.
I met a friend as I was gardening today. She's a lovely woman with five children, and she's very ill. I was happy to see her working in her garden, which is adjacent to mine. We talked about how these old houses capture our imagination and we wrestle with making them work for us. She told me how happy she was to have found her house and garden for whatever time she has to enjoy them. Those few moments were the most important to me of all. Those soul moments - where it's truly human to human - are part of our garden. Our internal garden, the one we must tend to as we care for our own humanity.
This outward spring and garden are a reflection of the inward garden. - Rumi
Soon it will be time to see what kind of chaos awaits us in our Italian garden! Until then, I'll be frantically busy in my studio, making and glazing. So more about that soon... and those nettle ravioli.
Happy Weekend, everyone!