After a late snowstorm unleashed its final attack at the end of an unseasonably warm winter, we decided to risk the elements and start our garden.
Usually it seems that bringing out the summer clothes is the trigger for a final frost or snowfall, but in this case, when we swapped out the seasonal wardrobes, we were met with nothing more severe than a rainy day. So—long past the date when the calendar has made it official—spring is here.
As we turned over the soil in the garden beds and pulled out the seeds we’d saved from last year, we laid out the plans for this year’s production. Now, the beds themselves are fairly small, so there isn’t much total area in play, but there’s still a good bit of thought that needs to go into crop placement.
In the first place, we need to rotate our plants, so we don’t deplete the soil of needed nutrients. That means tomatoes should not be planted in the same spot twice, which is a tall order, since we love tomatoes and our tomato crop easily takes up a fourth of the garden space. But wait! There’s more.
In horticulture, we also work with the concept of companion planting, which capitalizes on symbiotic relationships between plants. Some plants do very well together, drawing complementary resources from the soil and offering helpful properties to their “buddy crops” such as shade or bug repellent. On the other hand, some plants do not get along at all, competing for the same soil nutrients and even threatening other plants’ survival.
(For one instance, basil kills rosemary—an obvious and well-known gardening fact which I somehow missed learning until a couple of years ago when I planted my basil and rosemary together in my herb bed and then spent all summer wondering why the rosemary wasn’t flourishing. It was nearly dead before I researched the matter, pinpointed the basil plant as the villain, and dug it up to transplant it elsewhere. The rosemary rallied, recovered, and is now flourishing beautifully.)
Basil and rosemary are an extreme example, but there are many other instances of plants that can either inhibit or encourage growth in their fellow botanicals. It requires creativity, good planning, and learning what works well together to achieve the best possible garden result in our limited space.
In much the same way, I’ve noticed that some sibling pairs seem to flourish together, while others agitate and provoke each other. Sometimes, when assigning my children tasks, I feel as if I’m solving those classic logic puzzles about getting three incompatible creatures or objects (a sheep, a wolf, a cabbage) across a river without ever leaving the wrong two alone.
I’ve found that the best solution, just as in the gardening realm, usually involves creativity and good planning. I need to assess which kids are good fits for each other, personality-wise and maturity-wise, and provide a plan of action that pairs them up effectively.
This, of course, hinges on my being actively engaged with my children’s development and intimately acquainted with their real-time struggles and growth. Since their relationships and personalities are not static, what worked a few months ago may not be the best fit right now.
So I need to know that the seven-year-old is showing a real helpful and nurturing side and does well right now with the toddler. The eleven-year-old is showing some great leadership potential but has been struggling with annoyance and conflicts with one sibling lately, so she’d do better to organize games and activities for the middle ones (she does like to organize). And the six-year-old is demonstrating a remarkable tenderness toward the baby and just recently took it upon himself to start teaching her the alphabet.
Matching up companionable personalities is not a silver bullet, of course. Just as planting the garden is only the first step toward a successful harvest, directing kids toward productive pairings is just a step in the right direction and doesn’t negate the need for ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Into every life a little rain must fall, and there will always be a need to pull weeds. But it’s helpful to understand the nature of the crop you’re raising.
Photo Credit: Second and third image courtesy of Rose Focht.