Last spring, I ordered a batch of seed packs: zinnia, dianthus, hyssop, echinacea, sunflowers. And artichokes, inspired by spotting their jagged tops over a neighbor’s fence. In my neighborhood, I have to witness the plants that are able to overcome the sandy soil (by which I mean, the soil that is sand) and cool, foggy summers, before trying to grow them myself.
I planted the seeds as per packet instructions in little pots and plastic cups with holes poked in the bottom and put them in the little shed made of corrugated plastic, here when we moved in, that we call the greenhouse.
The sunflowers were the first to sprout, eager to begin their journey to grow five feet in a matter of weeks. I transplanted them into a sunny spot next to the fence on the east side of our yard. I could almost watch them grow in front of my eyes, they grew so fast.
The artichokes finally sprouted. It was early summer by the time I put them into the earth. The seed packs always say to plant things according to the last frost, which in San Francisco is meaningless, so I usually just interpret that to mean, at any time and they’ll figure it out. So, in went the artichokes, sometime in June, some into bigger pots and two into the earth, spaced far enough apart to make room for their giant leaves that look like what dinosaurs ate. After all, I didn’t plant artichokes for some special love of the vegetable. The first time I ate one, I was 16 and in France and my host family had to instruct me, in French, how to remove the petals, dip the ends in melted beurre and scrape the meaty bit off avec mes dents and then uncover the prize, la coeur.
I planted them because the plant itself is weird and fascinating and doesn’t really look real.
The two plants in the ground began to grow, slowly adding a leaf that would emerge from the base. They were ankle high when we took a road trip in July. My husband walked our neighbor around the yard, giving watering instructions as I watched from the bedroom window.
When we got home three weeks later, the sunflowers had doubled in size and had buds—one would eventually put out seven flowers on a single stalk. The artichokes were curled up and brown and crunchy. That one little patch of garden hadn’t gotten watered (passive voice to protect the responsible party(ies)). I kept watering them, feeding them chicken manure, but slowly the leaves fell off, and nothing was left.
In October, an atmospheric river brought 24 hours of rain. Real rain, not typical Bay Area drizzle, the kind that never stopped, accumulating in empty buckets and pots. Seven inches, they said. In the days that followed, as the sun finally appeared and we humans tentatively stepped out of our houses, the backyard erupted into green. Oxalis, mostly, but also patches of wildflowers from seeds I’d scattered at the end of summer.
And there, as if by some miracle, an artichoke leaf. And another. The two plants had magically survived, after all, biding their time in the sand until it was actually their season to grow. Their fronds now reach my knees, coming up in clusters that will soon grow heavy enough to spread out and grow leviathan.
They just needed a storm and some sun. And the right time.
It’s easy to get caught up in the New Year vibe of new beginnings and fresh starts. Lord knows, we’ve all had our brown and crunchy moments this year. Maybe we’ve even had some seasons of exponential growth, or loss.
Maybe January 1st isn’t your atmospheric river event, or your sunshine. Maybe you’re still waiting below the surface. Maybe you’ve already bloomed and your seeds are incubating, waiting for the spring. Maybe you feel absolutely dead and have given up.
January 1st doesn’t have to be your time. Your time will come.
Trust in the seasons, in the rain and the sun, to work their magic and sustain you until it is your time.
And then, you will grow, leviathan and jagged and beautiful, with your heart the most delicious part.
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