When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, my parents always planted a garden. Because we lived in a rural area, we had a sizable yard and a generously sized garden with rows and rows of plantings.
We grew tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beans, herbs and lots of green leafy things that, as a kid, I would not dare eat. Although I have lively memories of being with my mom, dad and siblings in the garden, I do not remember being particularly helpful in planting or maintaining it. I wish that I had paid closer attention.
In recent years, the kids and I have attempted to grow a few herbs and tomatoes in containers without much success. We would get off to a late start and then, once we got the seeds and plants into containers outdoors, with the distractions and competing demands that come with young children, we never quite got into a consistent groove with watering. The plants suffered.
A few years ago, we rented a garden plot at my older daughter’s elementary school, determined that having a plot would change our fate. We prepped the soil, tenderly planted our seeds and even weeded pretty regularly. But, as the summer wore on, we just were not able to get to the school to water on a consistent basis. The plants suffered.
This year, I really wanted things to be different. As with certain kinds of challenges, like going to the gym regularly, I do better when I have a partner. I approached my neighbor Betsy. I was thinking that if either of us went out of town, we could tend each other’s plants and gardens.
I told Betsy that we were thinking about planting a garden and before I knew it she was offering to share the plot in her yard. I had not even realized that she had one. The previous owner had created it, but over time, it had become just another part of the backyard and eventually, a resting place for her hammock stand. But as the plan for a gardening partnership evolved, the garden once again began to take shape. Betsy would prep the plot, my gang and I would plant the seeds and seedlings, pluck the weeds, and we would all share watering duties and the harvest.
Back in April, after Betsy had weeded and prepped the soil, the kids and I spent a couple of hours here and there planting tomato, pepper, basil and marigold seedlings that we had purchased from the T.C. Williams High School garden plant sale. We also planted sunflower, carrot, cantaloupe, watermelon, loofa and spinach seeds.
Over the past month, the garden has really filled out. The tomatoes have almost outgrown their cages. The basil and spinach are full and hardy and the buoyant carrot tops dance in the breeze. Since this was our first time growing most of these foods, we were a bit over zealous in the number of seeds we planted and had to thin out the crops a bit. We donated a handful or two of hardy cantaloupe plants to my son’s preschool for its garden. Watermelon plants will soon follow.
As much as we look forward to enjoying the gifts that our garden will bring this summer we are already reaping many benefits. In the midst of the daily demands of life, connecting with the earth, literally, is a great way of slowing down.
Because Betsy and I are gardening partners, we have been seeing more of each other. Chatting with a neighbor and friend about the days events while pulling weeds is yet another form of connection. The kids, who have a great sense of pride in and ownership of the garden, are eager to share watering duties and check on our one plum-sized tomato to see if it is yet ready to be picked.
I used to wear gloves when gardening. I wanted to keep the dirt out from under my nails, to avoid thorns and spikes in the weeds, and to avoid creepy crawlers. This year, I tossed the gloves aside. There is something powerful about the feel and texture of the dirt and my hands, of the resistance of weeds as they are being pulled from the ground, and of the good old-fashioned mud that is created when we water.
When my kids were small, I used to tell them that a sign of a good day was a ring of dirt around the bathtub. It told me that they were embracing the outdoors as a full-body experience, using all of their senses. As one who does a good deal of work on a computer, I get a robust sense of satisfaction when I wash my hands after gardening. The stream of brown tainted water spiraling down the drain reaffirms my connection with the earth, even after a long day or week at my desk job.
Regardless of how bountiful our crops turn out to be, our garden has already given far more than what we have put into it.
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