How Does Your Garden Grow?

All little kids know that crashing your parents’ bedroom first thing in the morning is inexplicably awesome. When I was that age, I couldn’t wait to invade my parents’ room to get my first hugs of the morning and snuggle. My mom set up a password system for me, though: she’d say, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” And my response: “With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” — this in a certain half-singing way. If it wasn’t just right, I had to re-do it in order to get my pass to enter.

Of course, gardens are an all too familiar part of my reading life, starting with Adam and Eve, moving to The Secret Garden, and most recently in Standing at the Crossroads. But up until recently, how actual gardens grow in my life is not well; my black thumbs have killed successfully just about anything that comes from a seed, including one or two cacti (!).  The only green item that survived my care was some lucky bamboo purchased for my first apartment, and it lived on for at least seven years before our move to Alaska.  (Maybe the bamboo and I had a special Asian connection?)

Now as homeowners, our house has a front yard and a fenced-in backyard, four beautiful raised beds in the back, and an upper deck lined with planters.  The previous homeowners adored gardening and did an incredible job with landscaping the property, front and back, for years. In fact, when we did our final walk-through, they showed us every part of the yard and garden and explained what was growing (or had previously grown), what spots got the best sun, etc. There was this implicit expectation that  we should also take good care of this well-loved space and carry on their careful work.

My thoughts went straight back to the issues of Better Homes and Gardens that my mom had once sent me. I loved reading the Homes part but tended to skim or skip over the Gardens parts, mostly because I had no garden to speak of living in an apartment.  Thankfully, Husband used to help his mom with gardening when he was growing up, so he was very confident that we would be fine. A few weeks ago, his mom — who absolutely loves to garden — came over with gloves, tools, and flowers and put us to work. We weeded and raked and pruned and turned soil and planted and watered for hours. The three of us stepped back and said, “Looks good.” And then Husband and I went back to the store to pick out some items to grow in our now-ready beds: tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, some herbs, and marigolds for the borders.

The first morning after we planted, we both woke up and immediately looked out our bedroom window to see how the plants were doing — as if they would have greatly changed after one night.

Close up of peppers and green onions (plus a marigold or two).

There is great satisfaction in putting my hands in the dirt. It’s playful — like the “Mary Mary” nursery rhyme of childhood — and it’s humbling to feel connected to the earth. Like I have some millionth of a percentage of a sense of what a farmer does on a daily basis: to notice when the soil is too dry, when the soil feels perfectly damp and moist, or when it’s time to weed out unwanted growth.  Watering in the evening has become a daily ritual for Husband and me, and Sounder Pup either supervises from up above on the deck or roams the backyard while we work. Tending something living, taking note of how it’s growing and changing, is an experience that I am grateful to have. Now Husband gives me daily reports on what’s going on: “this tomato plant is doing awesome”; “the onions are standing up now”; “wow that lettuce is out of control”; etc. This is one of the things I love about him: he is truly awed and excited by the littlest thrills of nature, no matter how many times he has seen them before… and in turn shows me how to stay in touch with the simple joys of life.

Weeding is also satisfying, as I feel protective of our plants and want them to keep thriving. My eyes are getting better trained to see weeds, whose insistence and resistance is remarkable. They pop up in unexpected places, often right next to the healthiest plants. No matter how many times they come back, we have to take notice and get rid of them before they start hurting the overall health of the garden itself. It is constant work, but it is also good, quieting work; seeing everything growing happily the next day makes it feel worthwhile.

It is fitting to have this gift of a garden come with the responsibility of home ownership. It is simultaneously a metaphor, a chore, a reward, and a bonding experience with Husband all wrapped into one.

I cannot wait until next week when my parents will visit and “crash” our home for the first time. Then I will get to show my mom exactly how the garden of this life is growing.

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