The Inadvertent Gardener Rotating Header Image


Being a working parent is like a big game of whack-a-mole. Issues pop up at work, at home, out in the rest of my life, sometimes more than one at a time, and I try to knock them off the list, frantically beating them back one at a time. There’s no way to get ahead as the they pop up faster and faster, and things slip: action items from a meeting don’t make it onto my to do list until weeks later, I cobble together odd dinner menus because I haven’t had time to get to the store, I find laundry in the dryer that should have been folded days prior.

Though I have a recurring to do item to water the garden, I’ll admit that it isn’t happening as often as it probably should. Some days, I laugh to myself that I’m growing my own version of dry-farmed tomatoes, but other days, I find myself in a minor rage on the way to the office, usually already late, but mad that I didn’t have time for the seven minutes it takes to fill the watering can twice, to pour the water, to make sure the plants are doing OK.


It is no wonder that all the tomato plants are struggling with blight, with bent stems where gravity tugs down fruit I haven’t yet picked, that some of the fruit itself crossed past perfect ripeness and has started to wrinkle and wither on the vine. I’m ashamed of this neglect, of how it indicates that I can’t even get to all the things I love, much less all the things that simply need to get done.

I hate blog posts that apologize for a gap in entries. I mean, really, we all get it. Life happens, and sometimes life doesn’t allow for post-writing. I had designs on a story arc I began in the summer, but here it is, mid-October, and the story arc is still hanging there, wrinkled and rotting, like a tomato not picked in time.

As The Pickle grows and changes, I am learning to let go of what is already gone. He’s not a chicken-legged baby anymore. He is round and toothy, on the cusp of toddlerhood. The Unicorn and I take one step forward, one back, as we figure out how to balance parenthood and work and our love for each other and keeping ourselves fed and wearing clean clothes and not letting the house become a disaster. Some days one of us functions better than the other. Some days, we’re both in the pit of despair. And every day, one very happy little boy asks us to read him the same books over and over and over again, regardless of whether or not the tomatoes have been watered or the dishes have been washed or either of us are in the midst of an existential crisis.

A couple weeks ago, The Unicorn was focused on getting himself and The Pickle out the door for daycare dropoff, and I was flipping out on the back patio as I realized one of my tomato plants was bent and nearly toppling because I’d fallen behind on tying up the tall, heavy branches. The guys came out to say goodbye, and I stopped my whirlwind for a few seconds to blow kisses before returning to the fray. I left the house in a rush, my hands covered in yellow dust—perhaps pollen, perhaps mold—that I had to wash off when I got to work.

This is the way life is, now. Relentless motion and change, a perpetual sense that something has been forgotten or missed. Some days, I score more points than others. Some days, I set out a plan and actually achieve it. But other days, I have to just let some things wither on the vine, wash my hands, and move on.

Green Thumb Sunday: Bright spot

Bright spot

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Green Thumb Sunday: Sparkled


Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Green Thumb Sunday: Tiny Sungold

Tiny Sungold

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Green Thumb Sunday: Strawberry, in progress

Strawberry in progress

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Green Thumb Sunday: Sunflower, golden hour

Sunflower, golden hour

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.


When I arrived home with my pots and dirt and all that jazz, I checked my phone to see if The Pickle was sleeping. The Unicorn and I keep close track of him with an app we love, and before those of you who raised children in the pre-app era scoff at us and tell me in the comments about how you did just fine figuring out when the child was hungry as opposed to tired as opposed to needing a diaper change without the aid of technology, let me just say that one of the best things about said app is that The Unicorn and I can use it to communicate about what has happened with the child in each other’s absence without actually talking about these things. In exchange for the cold light of technology collecting the data of our child’s routine, we get to use our precious adult conversation time to talk about OTHER important things. You know, like our finances, or who is more tired.

Parenting, folks. Parenting.

Anyway, I determined that The Pickle was, indeed, asleep, and so decided to forego the Loud And Triumphant Entry Into The House to greet my guys for a quiet shuffling of my bags from the car to the foyer, followed by the speediest unloading of garden supplies I have ever done in my life. When the baby is sleeping, the clock is TICKING, people. Time cannot be a-wasting.

I hauled my five bags of dirt. I hauled my pots. I took the seedlings to the back patio. I listened carefully (via a totally different app) and heard no waking-up noises coming from upstairs. I stood back and looked at the job at hand.

This is the point when I realized what I had done. I bought three pots. Three. Which is fine, because I had three tomato seedlings. The problem is I actually bought one of the pots in an appropriate size for the basil seedling, which meant I only had two pots appropriate for the tomatoes.

Rectifying this was going to require going back to the garden store, and at this point, that wasn’t happening. It was time to improvise, AKA do the best I could with what I had available.

Green Thumb Sunday: Indigo Ruby Tomatoes

Indigo Ruby tomatoes

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Shopping lists are overrated (until they’re not)

When I arrived at the garden center, I had two jobs: Buy pots, and buy dirt.

This should seem pretty simple. Three plants, so three pots. Right? And enough dirt for said pots. Indeed.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t make a list, and I was trying to get home to my husband and baby, and it’s Oakland, so I’d already had an epic battle to get a parking space in the tiny garden center lot. (That’s probably worth its own blog post, and perhaps its own blog. I won’t get into it here.) That meant I was slightly distracted, and, per usual, already hamstrung by my inability to figure out how much dirt goes in a given pot.

For those of you who haven’t been following along quite as long as I’ve been blogging, I started The Inadvertent Gardener in May 2006. Nine years ago, it probably made sense that I hadn’t figured out volumes. Now? I don’t have that much of an excuse.

But I am just going to go ahead and blame all of this on the gardening industry. They sell pots with diameters. Diameters are not volume. Diameter is important, sure, because how else do you know if your pots are going to fit where you intend to put them? (Unless, like me, you hadn’t really thought that part out before getting to the garden center, either.) But diameter is missing depth, which means you have to kind of eyeball whether or not there’s enough room for whatever roots of whatever plant you’re trying to grow, and without depth, you can’t figure out volume.

Bags of dirt? They’re sold by the cubic foot. THAT’S VOLUME.

So, let’s start with my first problem: I got in the garden center and my brain kind of shut down for a minute, and then I decided that I needed marigolds (six-packs available right there), and really, some basil, too. But then I still only bought three pots. And one of them was sized down. You know, FOR THE BASIL.

In other words, my brain edited out an entire tomato plant as I was shopping. And inserted basil. And some flowers for which I did not actually purchase any pots at all. And, besides, I couldn’t figure out volume, so I just did the equivalent of stabbing at the air when it came to selecting bags of dirt.

Oh, and, just to make things more difficult? This garden center wanted you to figure out what potting soil you wanted by looking at a row of bags manned by a curly-haired dude who didn’t really want you to pick any of them up. I mean, not that I think picking up a bag of potting soil would have unlocked the key to volume either, but it meant I was completely stabbing at the air with an imaginary pencil at this point.

“I’ll take five bags like this,” I said to the checkout clerk, pointing at the one I had sneaked out of the aisle of dirt before the curly-haired dude caught me and explained the rules.

The clerk took my money, I took my dirt, and basil, and marigolds, and two bigger pots, and one smaller pot, and one trowel for good measure, and I loaded up for home.

Three for the road

A few minutes after I accepted the gift of tomato plants from my Airbnb host, she reappeared with three seedlings and left them near the Airstream. “There you go,” she said. “They should be fine here until you head home.”

I looked at them out the door of the trailer, but it wasn’t until the next day that I got up close to them. There was a Stupice plant—a Stupice plant that already had fruit on it!—but there was also a Sungold plant and a Peacevine, which is a variety I had never heard of before.

It turns out Peacevine tomatoes were bred from Sweet 100 stock, and it’s a high-producing cherry varietal. In my brain, that translates this way: It’s perfect for popping directly off the plant directly into one’s mouth.

Leggy seedlings
So. Three leggy plants practically shouting at me to give them a little room to grow. When I headed home, I carefully buffered them on the floor of my backseat so they’d stay upright, and let The Unicorn know a stop at the garden center was in order.