On Wabi-Sabi & Planting Garlic

We are launching a new series on Girl Gift Gather called Mum's The Word. Inspired by the age old tradition of mothers passing on advice to their daughters, we've invited our own mother's, Barbara Justiz and Beverley Duckworth, to share their wisdom and wit with you on our blog every month. Today we share a post from Barbara... 


Spring is the air – joking! But I was thinking of Spring as my fingers turned frosty, gingerly placing each garlic clove into 4” deep holes spaced 6” apart in my garden. Green shoots will be poking out of the ground in Spring, one of the first signs of that season, along with my crocuses and then daffodils.  

My first experience planting garlic was several years ago. I found a wonderful site, www.keeneorganics.com, and was excited to see all the various types and colors of garlic. But which ones to buy? Early Italian Purple Softneck? Nookta Rose? Inchelium Red? Persian Star?Armenian Sibs? Ist Time Garlic Growers? 2lb, 5lb, 10 lb assorted? I randomly chose some, reluctantly leaving the others behind, still ending up with about 50 heads of garlic. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that you don’t plant the whole head, but rather individual cloves, which meant my garden would have to forego any other vegetables or fruits in order to accommodate all those cloves. No matter, one can never have enough garlic for cooking. I would end up planting some and using the rest.

Lest you think I am fanatically precise, (refer to the 4”/6” measurements, mentioned above) rest assured, I am not.  Many years ago, when first married, plants were our major decorating theme, the green and variegated leaves covered a multitude of weaknesses in our sparsely decorated apartment. I didn’t talk to them, which was highly recommended. I didn’t feed them special food. I can’t remember repotting them as they grew. I did water them, but sometimes they got a tad dry before soaking to make up for the neglect. I do remember my last words to them, as they were relegated to the trash room.  “I’m sorry, but you are no longer decorative, that was your purpose, and now you must go.” I’m not heartless, however. I knew that somewhere in our apartment building my alter ego would snatch that philodendron with the long stem upon which dangled two or three leaves and try to bring it back to life.  

So, back to garlic. That year, I planted the cloves, and carefully marked each type, a few cloves of each. Come Spring, it was a little like Hanzel and Gretel redux, my labels were bleached and unreadable. But we got garlic! 

For the next few years we kept getting garlic, although definitely less and less.This year I was happy with garlic scapes, albeit with some teeny, tiny cloves that were not worth pealing, or roasting. Time to plant again.

This time, I ordered two types of garlic, described as “hardy.”  Similar to my plants, I didn’t spoil my cloves. I didn’t soak them in a concoction of fish emulsion, Maxicrop and baking soda, followed by a warm bath (not over 115 degrees!) of my choice of vodka (like I would waste my precious vodka on a clove), isopropyl alcohol or Tsunami to sterilize my seed. Instead, I channeled Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese word that describes the art of imperfection. I didn’t know there was a word for it when I was tossing my plants out. Had I, I would have been more comfortable doing it, comfortable enough to not even remember to this day that I did the dirty deed. No, perfection would have those hardy heads of garlic still sitting in the box, waiting until I could a) buy all the necessary ingredients and b) actually get around to timing. Instead, they are in the ground, all 44 of them, and I will let nature take its course. The strong cloves will survive, the rest weren’t meant to be. Most important, it was fun instead of a stressful chore. And I always have the Farmer’s Market to appreciate someone else’s garlic growing success. 

Stay tuned...

Barbara J

Get into the Holiday Spirit with us next month at our Holiday Workshop with Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves. We'll spend an afternoon crafting, chatting and enjoying Holiday treats! Tickets are selling fast so pick yours up now!