In the Dirt

There was a time, once upon a time, when I wanted to be a gardener. Tending rows of vegetables bursting off the vine and basking over beds of hydrangea and daisies, these were the stuff of dreams back when I thought chlamydia was a plant. Then came the occasion of settling down with a house, a husband, and plenty of backyard; I thought, ahh, now is the time. I envisioned growing all our vegetables, spending sunny days in the backyard, plotting to weed while wearing my bathing suit to get the perfect summer tan. I don’t know which was more ridiculous, thinking an STD was clematis or that a bikini was appropriate garden garb. Either way, I was full of inspiration and vision. Far from my expectation were mile-long earthworms, relentless thieving squirrels, and the rotting matter that creates compost.

First, I must come clean and let you know there were many skeptics in my midst. Foremost, my husband. You see, when we met I had an apartment full of plants. Yes, they were dead, or on they way to being so, but I had plants! Philodendron, aloe, and some fuzzy leaved item I was told was an African Violet. Looking at that flowerless moribund perennial, I felt like I let an entire continent down. That’s the thing about dying plants, they are a very clear reminder that one is not up to the task at hand. But I endeavored to not let this stop me. After all, I was a single mother at the time and I was keeping my daughter alive. Didn’t that count?

My husband had a different metric. He felt such deep sorrow for the plants in my care and entered my home as if Prince Charming, not to rescue me, but the potted lifeforms that dotted my shelves. And try as he would, he could never stay on top of my ineptitude. Not that I didn’t try. I overwatered religiously and relocated plants from one window to another thinking they didn’t like the view. All this effort went on in between my husband’s instructional seminars. He used so many words, I’d get lost in the hazel-ness of his eyes, either that, or simply annoyed that he was still talking - about plants!

After a few years of this nonsense - both his and mine - upon occasion of us moving in together, my husband laid down a prenuptial of sorts. He said if the withering plants were to make the move with us, he could not bare to be responsible for such neglect as he had his own to care for. And that he did. Splendid cacti and succulents that soared to the rafters. I never told him how they mocked me whenever I visited. I gave them sway, and understood inherently how I was in the midst of an Eden I’d never experienced. So the deal was, I would have to take care of my own plants if we moved in together or part with them amicably, giving them away so as to save their life.

Now, do not make the mistake of thinking my husband cruel for this ultimatum. He came by it honestly after growing up with a father who bellowed, “If the plants can’t make it on their own, they don’t deserve to live!” I love my husband for how much he cares for all living things. So I did what not only seemed necessary but truly liberating. I gave up all my plants and felt the weight of a thousand pots lift from my weary back, not knowing that it gave room for the seeds of a garden to begin to bloom. It was years later when I sold my husband on my grand plan and he tilled the earth, fenced the area, and grew my confidence, while I set out to plant a masterpiece. 

My one and only garden taught me many things; the primary of which is an adage I still use to this day, “it’s all an experiment.” Those four words allowed me to play in the dirt and not worry about how it would all come out. If I grew one cucumber, I’d be ecstatic! There have been many times when it’s helped me to remember that all of life is an experiment. I also learned that working in the garden is hot, dirty, itchy business. No place for a bikini, besides, the only thing getting tanned were my shoulders and sunburns were more the order of the day. 

The final pearl is this - weeding sucks. I know, such a strong, inelegant word to use. I honor all you gardeners out there, but I’m afraid the weeding gene just is not in my DNA. This was concretized one day in late August when my husband took the weed whacker into my shoulder-high jungle of a garden in order to liberate some tomatoes. I still remember that harvest; it ended with spackle-buckets of ripe red beauties and a look on my husband’s face reminiscent of those days back in my apartment. He never said a word, but to this day, I know what he was thinking, “Wow, what a great gardener!”