Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Not Gardening is a Sin Against Hope

In 2009 I began gardening in earnest. A new community garden opened up in my neighborhood that year, and I hopped on board and claimed my spot. I still remember the exact spring day when, with some trepidation, I first ripped up the ground and planted my first seeds. It was like I was ripping open my own soul.

Each year I've had fatalities. I've had critters come and devour baby plants. I've had disease kill things off. My own stupid mistakes killed some things. One year I allowed what I thought was an extremely fertile zucchini to strangle my broccoli and tomatoes. (It was morning glories. I felt completely dumb.)

I watched fellow gardeners in the community plot plant things and then abandon them. I felt like I was stealing, but sometimes I picked their stuff. But what I didn't pick literally rotted on the vine, and went to waste.

In 2010 my husband lost his job, and I was inspired to dig up the backyard and plant more. Then in 2011 I put in raised beds in our front yard. My kids alerted me to the fact that I was constantly talking about gardens.

And yet, I hated doing the hard work of it all. One year we had a very wet spring, and I made the mistake of tilling when it was muddy. Then it dried, and I had huge, hard clods. Just digging to plant seeds was incredibly tedious work. I was amazed that anything I planted grew at all. Sometimes I didn't water enough during drought; sometimes I let the weeds choke plants out, and sometimes things ripened too quickly and went bad before I could harvest.

Last summer we meant to have our backyard wall repaired, but it stayed just as broken as it was when we moved in. There had been another case of mistaken plant identity which had resulted in the yard being filled with pokeweed and burdock, and the man who was going to repair our wall (but never did) counseled me to leave all the weeds to help keep the soil in place. It was an ugly, chaotic mess. I looked at it every morning as I sat on my back porch to pray, sighing heavily at the work that would be involved in making it decent again.

This year, we have a new wall. Our old pine trees are out, including their stumps, and I've dug and expanded a garden, planted sunflowers just above the wall, and tomato plants along it so that, in theory, folks could walk through the alley and help themselves to some. On our first warm day as winter ebbed away, I did some extremely hard work digging out deeply embedded weed roots. Today I found the recent rains made me able to pull other big weeds with hot-knife-through-butter ease.  I've rescued about 75 volunteer tomato plants that grew from last year's rot, as well as about 18 gourd plants, and liberally spread them all around our property and in the community garden. I hope the air around the house will smell of tomatoes in August.

Literally true, every word I've written. Also, metaphor.

That's why I couldn't just yank those volunteer plants out like weeds and toss them away. When new life begs your attention every time you turn around and the ground practically jumps into your shovel and the weeds leap into your hands, I think it is a serious sin against hope not to garden.

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