This excerpt is adapted from Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life, © 2012. Published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.
Hobbits love to garden and so did their creator J.R.R. Tolkien. The author found solace in his own backyard garden, just like his creations—the Shire-folk—did in theirs. Sam Gamgee, the gardener-turned-hero of The Lord of the Rings, dreams about his own little garden during the darkest days of his journey with Frodo into Mordor. His garden is his happy place and provides a deep connection to his beloved home.
Have you ever had a garden of your own? If not you’re missing out on one of the world’s great joys. You don’t have to have a huge space to create an outdoor haven—a place to sit and read and watch the fruit of your labor spring to life. I’ll tell you how to create a wonderful Hobbit garden with only a few feet of soil—a garden any Halfling would be proud to call their own.
The first time I helped make a garden I was in my twenties. My wife and I were newly married and renting a tiny old house directly behind a parking lot. In our backyard was a derelict patch of weedy grass about the size of a bedroom. I’d always dreamed of having a little garden, just like the one Bilbo had outside his kitchen window at Bag End. So we got permission from our landlord (a diminutive Hobbity sort of woman we called “Mrs. Sniff” because of her habit of sniffing all the time) to turn this unused space into a garden.
Everything we planted in that little yard grew like it had been brushed with enchanted Elven-dust. We had enormous Brandywine tomatoes (planted in honor of the Shire’s Brandywine River) and cucumbers fat and sweet. There were delicious lettuces and enough basil to make dozens of pesto dinners.
It had all been so easy. We simply stripped off the sod, turned the soil, mixed in some compost we got from the local feed and seed, planted some seeds and watered. We had no idea what we were doing. But we were on our way to creating our first cottage garden—like a little piece of the Shire. This place was a haven where we sat and read our favorite books to the sound of droning of bees under the shifting natural light of the sun.
My wife and I have been together for a quarter of a century now, and we’re still making gardens. We moved into a new house a couple of years ago and
one of the first things we did was to turn a barren patch of grass and weeds into a garden filled with life and color and food! A place where our two little kids can scuffle over fat strawberries, where birds sing and bees buzz, and where the slow fireworks of a garden burst open like magic.
Directions for Creating a Small Hobbit Garden
Let’s assume that you have space for a 4’ by 8’ garden bed. You can plant a variety of vegetables and herbs in a space that small (see diagram). But seeds can be very expensive if you’re only using a couple from each packet. A lot of people have come up with clever ways to get around this: they’re sharing seeds.
Throw a “Seed Exchange Party” and invite everyone you know who is interested in having a garden. Guests bring a couple of packets of seeds, you put
them on a big table and then you each take a few. Remember, you only need half a dozen cucumber seeds to grow enough cukes for an entire summer.
Craigslist and Freecycle are great places to look for free gardening material like old hoses (which can be repaired with inexpensive new hose ends),
watering cans, tools, pots, plastic barrels for collecting rainwater and even lumber for building raised beds. Check out the website www.dirtcheapgardening.com for some awesome ideas on creating inexpensive (and sometimes free!) gardens.
Cut off the sod where you want to plant your garden bed and shake out all the dirt and worms. Get four or five bags of compost to mix into the soil, along with some organic fertilizer (like cottonseed and kelp meal). You don’t have to dig deep down or spend hours churning the soil. Your seeds want to grow. All they need now is some sun and water.
Directions for laying out your bed for peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and basil:
1.) Lay out your bed in an east/west direction. Along the back of your bed put in two poles so they’re at least 6’ feet out of the ground, and stretch some jute at 8” intervals between them. Plant a row of sugar snap or snow peas so they grow up the jute creating a wall of pea vines. Make sure these are on
the north side of the bed, otherwise the pea vines will shade the rest of the garden from the sun.
2.) Mix up some heirloom lettuce seeds (like flashy or bib) in the palm of your hand—about half a teaspoon’s worth. Now pinch some between your fingers and sprinkle it in the designated lettuce patch. Once the seed has been cast, simply cover it with about half an inch of soil.
3.) Plant your carrot seeds in shallow rows. You might want to mix in a little sand in this area to help the carrots push through the soil. Try Red or Purple Dragon varieties in honor of Smaug the Dragon (from The Hobbit).
4.) Buy a couple of heirloom tomato starts from your local farmers market such as Brandywine or Purple Cherokee and plant them as soon as the last frost
5.) In early summer dig a shallow trough (half an inch deep) along the front of the bed and sprinkle in the basil seeds. Cover them with a thin layer of soil. You can also buy basil starts if you want them to grow faster.
Soon you will have a lovely spot where you can sit and read your favorite book. (I recommend anything by Tolkien!) Always remember to have patience and every season you’ll learn something new to carry over to the next.
The Wisdom of the Shire Tells Us… “To grow your dinner from a seed planted and tended by your own hand is more wondrous than a wizard’s sorcery.”
Noble Smith is the author of The Wisdom of the Shire from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. He is an award-winning playwright who has worked as a documentary film executive producer, video game writer and media director for an international human rights organization. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and kids. He blogs about all things Tolkien at www.shirewisdom.com. Follow him on Twitter @shirewisdom.