Less is More

What many gardeners learn—the hard way.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

Since my husband and I lived in an apartment for the first two years of our marriage, the small yard of our first house in the suburbs seemed like vast acreage. I designated a sunny corner of our yard, close to the back kitchen door, as the vegetable garden. My husband tilled up a 5’ x 10’ rectangle. Although that certainly wasn’t a big area, it was far more than the single pot I’d had on our apartment balcony. I designated a row for tomatoes, one for squash, and one for lettuce. If I’d stopped right there, it might have been a nice garden. But I reminisced about the tall, green stalks of corn—their leaves flutter-ing in the wind—in my dad’s garden when I was growing up and thought, Why not? Then I thought of the year Dad grew pumpkins and how much fun we had rolling them up the yard to the house. I thought of how crisp green beans are straight from the garden and how tangy sliced homegrown cucumbers taste soaked in vinegar with salt and pepper.

I decided to crowd them all together—and planted an entire produce section.

I read the seed package labels, saw the recommended plant spacing, and felt a wave of disappointment. If I followed the directions, I’d have to not plant as many of each vegetable or leave some out altogether. Not feeling happy with those solutions, I decided to crowd them all together and hope for the best. Before long, I had an entire produce section planted.

My yellow squash plants grew far bigger than I remembered—they hogged all the space for a solid three feet around. Their leaves covered over the lettuce, which became pale and lifeless. The overcrowded tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers produced pitifully spindly crops. The only pumpkin seed that survived snaked all over the garden, produced a few mini-pumpkins— and died. The corn grew tall, shading the rest of the garden, and bore a few, underfertilized ears. My bountiful harvest didn’t come to be, but I learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes less is more.

This spring, a friend eagerly posted online, “Wood-walled, raised veggie garden has been planted! Carrots, radishes, green beans, peas, and beets are in. Still need to pick up potatoes and one other veggie.” The garden in his photo was hardly longer than the shovel still lying in the bed—and less than half as wide.

I didn’t say a word. Less is more, you know.


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