Fence Posts

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mary Niehaus Ralles 

How DOES my garden grow?  Lately, that question isn’t as simple as it has been in the past. If we’re talking metaphorically, as in my life, it’s exploding and branching out in every direction. It’s a season for bumper crops and my dream of moving back to the country is finally coming into focus, with more definitive plans.

My boys just finished up school for the year and I’m in that short window of time to pack up the house and find a new place before mid-August. It is indeed “go time!”


You might recall a few weeks ago I decided to plant my garden, knowing that there was a good chance I wouldn’t be around to harvest it. I’m happy to report that while I won’t be here for the potatoes, onions, and some of my other late summer harvest, I have enjoyed some early sprouts like cayenne, banana, and bell peppers.

Due to some unpredictable spring weather, the tomatoes are just now starting to flower and the corn stalks are a mere 2-feet tall. The green beans are coming on strong, but nothing to pick just yet.

I find gardening to be a lot like life, where you spend a fair amount of time watching and waiting to pick the brightest berry or the ripest tomato. And, just like in life, sometimes we get impatient and pull something too early, realizing the mistake immediately.

In this very special window of time where I will continue to nurture my garden until I move, my most profound lesson has been to enjoy the growing season. And I’m not just talking about the plants growing outside. I have two boys growing like weeds every day. I have a better appreciation for the changes happening in their lives right now — growing past early childhood and turning into fine young men. I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the shaping and molding of who they are and will become. I’m helping them to prepare for their own futures one day, where their fence lines won’t always be adjacent to my own. This time along the way is nothing short of amazing. I sometimes think that being a mom is the ultimate gift and the truest of gardens to mind and tend to. So much care goes into the attention you invest and you run the same risks as you do in your garden. Over-watering and too much of anything can result in stunting growth or preventing a plant from reaching its full potential. I see kids requiring that same moderation and constant consideration. If I give them too much, they will never learn to stand on their own two feet. If I don’t give them enough, they might not get off to a solid start and foundation with strong roots to grow from and build upon. 


Each morning, I look forward to taking a walk around my garden wall to see how my temporary garden is coming along. I have to resist the urge to snatch up my nearly-ripe veggies and simply appreciate the fact that I’ve played a role in nurturing them along the way. And in that same vein, I also have to resist the urge to coddle my boys or force a lesson on them that they need to learn on their own at a future date, perhaps even long after I am gone.

In my life and in all things, I am giving more consideration to my actions and behaviors. Sometimes it is enough to simply look at a piece of nearly ripe fruit, because I’ve lived long enough to know that it will be even sweeter once it has matured and ripened. And knowing when it’s ripe enough to pick is perhaps a bit subjective, depending upon individual taste. But that’s what makes life unique for all of us. I think some of the best parts of life revolve around finding beauty in the simplest of experiences and sharing that perspective with others. 

In the past, I’ve missed out on some of the simple treasures because I was too busy hurrying along, without enough thought and care into how I wanted to live my life. I have since taken on a more disciplined and perhaps deliberate approach, shifting gears from being at times merely an observer to becoming (growing into, perhaps,) a more adventurous explorer.

Instead of simply watching my garden grow, I am spending more time planning and considering planting choices, hence answering the age-old question, “How does your garden grow?” Contrary no more!

Mary Niehaus-Ralles

Community Gardening and Paying it Forward

Mary Niehaus RallesGardening is moving into full swing here in the Midwest. We’ve survived the late frosts. And while there are still some unpredictable days where I want to turn my heat back on, it feels like a beautiful spring has finally arrived. Each morning I am greeted by a warm sunrise creeping up through the trees and into my bedroom window, illuminating the sky.

These sunrises feel even more symbolic, as I feel that each passing one brings me closer to my move out of the city and back into the country. I struggled a bit in deciding what to do about setting out a garden this year, knowing I likely won’t be here at summer’s end.

Last fall, a friend of mine tilled a new garden for me in my backyard. I then trimmed it with 100+ year old granite stones and finished it off with a couple of wrought-iron stands holding clay pots with flowers. At the time it seemed so lovely and held so much promise for planting, when seeds and seedlings would slip gently into the powder like dirt, taking root and producing a stunning display of vegetables and fruits, just begging to be picked.

I considered leaving the garden fallow with the expectation that I wouldn’t be around to reap the rewards and harvest. Ultimately, I found myself unable to resist the chance to dig in the dirt, don my floppy sun hat, and plant seeds. I just couldn’t imagine wasting a planting season and summer harvest on the off chance that I might not be here to enjoy it.

So I began with a few standard staples to put in the ground: potatoes, onions, and strawberries. I had a few pepper and tomato plants I’d started from seed indoors, and I wanted to explore a few local nurseries to find more mature and hearty starters of strawberry and pepper plants. I found a great little place in Batesville, Indiana, called Five Oaks Garden, where there is a large selection of plants as well as a lovely display of candy-jar-like containers with scoops and bags for purchasing seeds.


In fact, Five Oaks has southeast Indiana’s largest selection of bulk vegetable seed, with more than 200 varieties to choose from. And the next time I go back, I plan to try their whole wheat flour, “Billie’s in the Hood”, which is grown, cleaned, and milled in small batches on a farm just outside Oldenburg, Indiana. I have to admit, I’ve grown very fond of the lovely land and charming spots in southeast Indiana. Each time I take a road trip, scouting out land and potential home sites, I discover new local treasures — places that have been around for a long time, are locally owned and operated, and mostly untouched by the passing of time.

I ended up buying a bar of homemade soap and a beautiful, blue, glass, hummingbird feeder as well. And on the trip back home, I enjoyed a sunny afternoon drive watching the fields lined with mustard plants, bright and yellow, that seemed to go on for miles.


Back at my current home in the middle of the city, I considered my transition from having mostly potted gardening on the patio to an open and decent-sized tilled area of ground.

Eileen the yellow lab

Given the uncertainty of my timing to move, I had to abandon my dream to have a small flock of chickens this year. Baby chick season has come and gone, and while I visited the little guys at all the local stores, I left without making any purchases. And for now, I’ll continue to grab eggs by the carton from my local grocery store.

My garden, though, is a different story. The second I committed to digging my fingers into the soil and pulling the first weed, I went from a “might do” to a “will do” attitude. I see a little more progress every day, with my pepper plants beginning to sprout tiny peppers and strawberry plants starting to run their lines to expand. I am immediately in love with my patch of land with tiny rows of promising vegetables.


As with past years, I will share the excess and look to do a little canning, too. There will be jam and jelly. And I accept that this year could be quite unique in turning into an urban community garden, where I’ve planted the seeds and someone else will take over and enjoy walking through the garden with a small pail or basket, gently picking and collecting my labors of love. I’m happy to pay it forward and equally content to be spend a little more time here if it means I get to nurture my garden and enjoy some of the early harvest.

Mary Niehaus Ralles