Last week, I found myself chatting about my garden with my grandmother. I was telling her about the lessons I’ve learned this summer about growing tomatoes in the Houston heat, taking care of the obnoxiously prolific and destructive stink bugs, and my goal of having something growing in the garden year-round. I guess I was sort of going on and on (which is a bit unusual, because grandma really, really, really likes to talk), and when I finally stopped to take a breath, she quietly said, almost to herself, “You’re just like my mother and grandfather, always needing to grow something.”
I have very few memories of my great-grandmother. Most of them are sensory, like the musty smell of her house in Tennessee or a slight tightening of my chest as I recall all the asthma attacks I had while staying there. Strangely enough, though, I do remember her puttering around the backyard, tending to her tomato plants. I can see her withered, fragile frame bent over the plants, gingerly inspecting the fruit and picking the ones that had ripened.
Perhaps I remember this because it was different from my normal experiences. My own grandparents weren’t gardeners, and my immediate family moved way too much to believe we could actually tend and care for a garden.
My grandmother is right, though, I do need to grow something. Something pulls me to the garden, coaxing and tempting me to give the soil a chance to produce its bounty. I anxiously and excitedly await the miracle of life, watching the tiny seed become a plant that goes on to produce flowers, fruits, or vegetables. The process from seed to fruit is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and gives me a rich and primal appreciation for the life around me.
You could say that I mother the plants in our backyard, watching their progress carefully and tending their needs tenderly. I guess I do. I care for them so gently and want nothing but the best for them. It frustrates me when my own ignorance or negligence negatively affects them, which happens far too often, but I’m learning.
I don’t garden to produce all the food we eat. Truth be told, my mistakes have been too numerous to even sustain one person from our garden. That’s not the point, though. Sure, my eventual goal is to produce some food for our table year-round, but sustenance isn’t why I labor over the garden beds.
Earlier I wrote “primal appreciation”. That phrase came naturally and easily to my fingertips, even though I’ve never thought of it in those terms, and it kind of surprised me. Now that I sit here and actually think about it, though, this primal appreciation is why I garden. Growing something, anything, connects me to the source of life, reminding me that I am part of a much larger energy and design. It connects me to a process that has evolved over millions of years, allowing me to be an intimate observer and participant. And, sometimes, I actually get to partake of this wonder, tasting the joy of fresh food from the garden.