Starting Lily’s Farm: The Promise of Perennials

Every spring, doubt gives way to renewal.

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A photo posted by Lily's Farm (@lilysfarmmm) on

I found my mint today, and I’m pretty excited about it. It wasn’t lost exactly, I’d just given up on it. Two of the plants — tiny seedlings last season— never made it into the ground. The third grew a bit faster and flourished in the field, but then I dug it up, transported it across the state and transplanted it again last fall. I didn’t have high hopes for any of them. Winter killed off their leaves and stems and made them disappear to my eyes. But, oh, magical spring! I got my digging fork out to clean up my small perennial herb bed, saving the hardy survivors like sage and savory from the already encroaching rye and chickweed. I lingered over the empty spots where my mint had been, thinking I didn’t need to bother to weed since there was nothing to save.  That’s when the little glint of bright green, mostly buried in the mulch, caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, it was definitely not rye or chickweed, it was mint!  And there was more!  Three separate spots, where the roots had survived winter and sent out new growth. Now I have to put it back in my crop plan!

It’s easy to lose faith in the winter, when you can’t see what’s happening underground and you assume nothing is. It’s easy to think the worst: Everything has died, and nothing will survive. But then plants pop their heads back up and prove you wrong. It’s a lesson I keep learning, over and over again. Last season, I had the dubious privilege of managing a long neglected asparagus patch. Countless times in the early spring, I doubted I would see any asparagus. When I’d first seen the field, the previous fall, it had been accidentally mown in July, encouraging the rye, goldenrod, vetch, and queen anne’s lace that had overtaken it to come back with even more vigor. To suppress weeds, I tried to heavily compost the areas where I saw remains of asparagus stalks, but it felt like a pointless guessing game. When the snows melted, the field looked like an especially weedy early spring pasture, and I didn’t know where to start weeding, for fear of disturbing the precious asparagus roots. So I watched, waited, and hoped. And doubted.

They taste like green, like spring. I will sorely miss those asparagus.

But sure enough, eventually I spied my first asparagus. Choked by weeds, for sure, but they still grew. When you snap an asparagus off at the base of the stem, juice just drips out. They’re delicious that way: fresh, raw, just picked. They taste like green, like spring. I will sorely miss those asparagus. The weedy field, not so much. But I’m glad to have my own little perennial patch, small though it may be, just to remind me about patience and survival, and the nature of promises.

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Lily Dougherty-Johnson is a native North Forker, finally pursuing a lifelong dream of farming. She writes from her home in Greenport, New York, with her reluctant farmdog snoring by her side.