I’m not much of a gardener, it seems.
Oh, there have been valiant efforts to learn. Sweeping purchases of every start that caught my eye. Bags of natural fertilizers. Morning after morning of dutiful checking and weeding, waiting for the first seedling to turn into a green thing poking its head above the dirt. I’ve grown herbs successfully.
But people, I can’t even seem to grow lettuce properly. It always seems to bolt and turn to bitter flowers within a few days.
I have plenty of friends who are tremendous gardeners. They have coaxed me and coached me and come over to the garden to show me what to do. I have drawn diagrams based on their advice and become even more dutiful in the days afterwards.
And still I kill plants.
All right, the past few summers may not have been conducive to gardening. There was the summer Lu was born, and in the ICU, and then a newborn at home. I let the zucchini grow as big as baseball bats and heard the hollow confirmation that they were no longer edible. Last summer we were preparing for our book tour, plus there was no real sun. Even all the experienced gardeners on Vashon who seem to know how to turn baby plants into gigantic jungles were having problems. So I tried again.
Now, granted, this summer, the island had a deer problem. It was a cold spring. Not much grew, except for the deer population. There had been an island-wide deer-hunting ban. Suddenly deer darted before every car at twilight. We watched them jump our six-foot fence with grace and alacrity. And they were hungry. They ate our chard. Our peppers. Our tomatoes. These beings were hungry. They even ate the potato leaves, which are purported to be poisonous. Okay, I thought, I give up. They’re yours.
Because really, this summer, there’s wasn’t much of a chance anyway. We were away more than we were home. Good gardening, it seems to me, requires a slow life. Steady work. Daily attention. No big occasions. Just being there, every morning, to water and weed and watch the plants grow incrementally.
This summer oh hell, the last three years have been about big leaps and celebrations, hitting milestones and getting on one more airplane. I’m ready to slow down, to be here, to watch and wait more than I talk.
Now, of course, it’s fall. Not much gardening going on soon. Could I still plant kale? Maybe one plant. And give it all my attention, every morning. And grow it without expectations. Just to see what happens.
Because, in spite of the fact I’m really a rotten gardener, I had a little thrill yesterday. Lu and I went outside in the one two-hour patch of time it wasn’t raining. And we picked all the remaining tomatoes from the vines and pulled all the carrots from the ground.
She had no expectations. She didn’t know that carrots are not supposed to be that stubby. She was entirely excited. “Carrots, Mama! We grew carrots!”
Spurred on by her excitement, I grabbed her green metal shovel and began digging. I exclaimed when the first rose-colored potato popped up in the black earth.
“Potatoes, Lu! We grew potatoes!”
So, early Saturday evening, Lu and I sat down to dinner made almost entirely from our garden. The fact that it was the entire fall harvest of our garden didn’t bother her at all. She had roasted carrots with a lemon-tahini-cream cheese dip we made up on the spot. (She threw a few grapes into the food processor as it was going. And actually, she was right. That slight sweetness made it even better.) And together we enjoyed a few small slices of fried green tomatoes. Throw in some sunlight coming in the window and the paper dolls her grandmother made for her that morning? We shared a good meal.
Later that night, Danny cooked up a lobster (they were on sale at the grocery store, a once-a-year event) while I roasted the handfuls of potatoes I had found in the dirt that afternoon. We sat down at the coffee table, watching Saturday Night Live and dipping lobster into lemon butter while laughing.
“Wow, honey,” he told me. “These potatoes are fantastic.”
Maybe there’s hope for me as a gardener yet.