Friday, April 29, 2011

“Life begins when you grow a garden."-- Confucius

The first plant I remember killing was a Wandering Jew I named Captain Morgan that kept me company in my college dorm while I drank and smoked my way to a BA. There have been others before and since, but I loved that plant and killing it truly hurt me. Ever since, I have avoided green things as much as possible and when someone gives me a potted plant I immediately try to find it a better home. A safer home. A foster home.

So naturally, my own son started asking for a garden about five minutes after he learned how to talk. He started having dreams about carrots and demanded fresh, organic produce. He told us he wanted to grow up to be either an organic farmer or a bowling alley repair man. I hoped for the latter. The summer when he was four he asked for a Home Depot book called "Gardening 1-2-3" for Father's Day while we were buying flashlights for my Dad. My husband bought it for him while I cringed. It might, I feared, give him hope. A hope I didn't want to kill. Or over water.

So that's why it was miraculous when this Easter, rather than going to the parade, I suggested we stay home. And dig a garden. Something in me had shifted. Maybe it was deciding not to move out last spring. Maybe it was actually running around the block a few times, moving my body in an unusual way, a groundbreaking way, for me. Maybe it was craving tomatoes that didn't taste like the plastic bag they came in. Whatever it was, my husband and son chose not to question me. Instead, they went to the shed and got their shovels. I pulled Gardening 1-2-3 off of Henry's shelf and started to read. But reading, that thing I always do and have always done, did not teach me anything compared to putting my hand on that shovel and actually digging in.

My mother and her husband lent us their wheelbarrow, sifter and fertilizer. Our neighbor, a master gardener, gave us tomato, cucumber and sunflower seedlings. Friends gave us herb seeds, tomato plants and a worm starter kit. It literally felt like manna from heaven, like the whole world wanted us to plant our freakin' garden. We spent six hours that day sifting rocks, grubs, nails, screws and pottery shards out of the earth. We got blisters, splinters and filthier than we'd ever all been at the same time. It was fantastic. I got the sense that I was actually allowing myself to put down roots in the home I've lived in my entire life. I stopped worrying about whether the plants would live or die because I realized that thinking their survival was entirely up to me was an egregious act of hubris.

Most people I know already have a garden or are at least capable of tending window boxes and indoor house plants. I have always respected and admired their faith in the process of life, but I've also always felt somehow outside of that process. Yes, our garden is only about 6 days old but I feel like the simple act of laying it in the ground was a rite of passage- like losing my virginity or getting my Bat Mitzvah. Only this time I don't have to write thank-you notes.


  1. Wonderful, congratulations and best wishes for your garden! There really is a connection - at least in my experience - between feeling figuratively rooted and putting down literal roots.

    Did you write a thank-you note after losing your virginity? ;)

  2. This is worthy of Annie Dillard. And I'm sure your garden will be, too.

  3. I would like to read the thank you note you wrote for losing your virginity.