If you do not currently have a garden of any kind, or even a house plant, you should consider doing so. Few things are capable as providing as much nourishment for the soul as helping something grow. Once you gain the confidence that comes with keeping something alive, you will quickly discover that there are things you can keep alive that taste really, really good. For me, gardening is really a selfish pleasure. But, naïve as it may sound, it makes the world a better place as well. It improves our air, and it provides something green for others to look at. Anytime you can make your own selfishness align with the better of someone else you are doing a good thing.
I have only been gardening for a couple of years. For so long it seemed as if gardening was just a vastly complex hobby that offered the newcomer so many different ways to fail. I used to tell people around our P-Patch that hour for hour and ounce for ounce, my wife and I work the hardest for the least amount of actual gain, if such a calculus were to exist.
But no longer. At least when it comes to basil. Our first year, which was really a half year, the summer of 2007, we grew a few basil plants with moderate success. We planted late, didn't fertilize or water enough, and were pleasantly pleased with our results. I don't recall that we had enough even make a batch of pesto that year, but we certainly made our share of caprese salads and the like. Last year, 2008, we got an early start and planted seeds in the spring in the south-facing window of our Ballard apartment. They grew too fast, became too spindly, and amidst the madness of house shopping and then moving, in May of last year, the basil plants never made the transition. I don't even remember exactly what happened to them. But that's probably for the better. I don't even recall being too upset. So accustomed to failure when it came to gardening, we likely shrugged our shoulders, hung our heads low, and moved on.
But then came this year, 2009, the year of the bountiful sun and the somewhat experienced gardening team at the old Redman household. I built raised beds back in February. I ordered shipments of the finest organic topsoil and compost that money could buy. We purchased basil plants from a local nursery sometime in May, just as the sunshine was beginning to blanket our glorious corner of the Earth. We watered. Boy, did we water! By late June we were looking at four waist-high bushes of basil. They were as big as the nascent tomato plants that grew alongside them. I joked to my wife that this was my Italian bed. That basil and tomatoes were meant to be together not just on the plate but also in the garden. I perhaps grew slightly smug at our success.
For the past month or so we have been making pesto once a week. Everytime we go out to cut down some basil, thinking we are going to have to take down a whole plant, only to realize that no matter how much we seem to cut, there is always much, much more. We eat pasta lousy with pesto. We purposefully make too much pesto, and then overdress the pasta with its luscious greenness. No, I take that back. It's not possible to overdress pasta with pesto. In addition to our lovely meals, we have been making pesto and freezing it. Will it taste the same come January, when we are staring outside at gloom and rain and bare tree branches? I don't know.
Our plan for this week is to cut down most of our basil. We plan to make another big batch of pesto, as well as try freezing some whole leaves, which we've heard works well. There's also other reasons to cut down the basil. It's started to flower, and while I love watching the bees gather round, since they seem to take as much if not more pleasure in our basil, it also means that the plants won't produce many more leaves.
There is something else I need to confess to. My gardening is not quite where it needs to be. I planted too many tomato plants—good problem to have!—and they have completely overtaken the basil. My "Italian bed" is a tangle of green. It is more green than I ever could have imagined. It's impossible to tell where the basil ends and the tomatoes begin. I've mistreated my basil in this way. But it doesn't complain. It just does its thing, as it's done for centuries. It quietly goes through life and doesn't seem to complain. We could all learn a thing or two from that.