Top | Our Table

Behold, this green thumb

(article, Kim Carlson)

My colleague Caroline and her husband, Caleb, inspire me. My neighbors to the west and the east and north inspire me. Memories of my parents' energetic efforts inspire me. And yet, when it comes to tending a garden of my own, I resist.

After all, the farmers' market is so rich and efficient; I can catch up with my friend Susan every Saturday when we shop. And there's such variety! I could never grow all those beautiful greens, not to mention the reds, the yellows, and the purples. 

If I devote time to a garden, will I have time to go to the farmers' market each week? Will I have time for other things, like, oh, I don't know, hobbies? (Never mind that I have never been one for hobbies; you just never know.)

I recognize there's some residual resentment about having to stay home and weed the garden instead of going to play Barbies with Carol Clay; that happened once or twice 35 years ago.

Alas, I have lots of excuses.

[%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="My grandmother prized her rhubarb."]

To be truthful, I have grown strawberries, basil, tomatoes, and raspberries. I've grown satsuma oranges on a tree that I carry in and out of doors, depending on the season, and I've grown herbs in clay pots.

But there's something else: Some of these crops haven't thrived. Imagine! 

Trees near the planter boxes in our backyard have grown wide and shady — lovely in some respects, not so great in others. Last year's basil plants were skinny but determined, leaning hard toward the sun. It's not rational, but I fear the unripe tomatoes and the bolted parsley, even as I tell myself that gardening is about trying things, seeing what works.

Like anything, it takes practice.

And when I recall the delicious tomato salads we made with our heirloom tomatoes (the half-dozen that ripened) and our ugly basil — our scrawny plants — I think, I can do this. 

My 91-year-old grandmother, Ursula, died two weeks ago, and in the days since, I have been thinking about her garden. It is a simple plot just east of the garage where the sun is hot. Tomatoes thrive there, and the rhubarb is prized in the neighborhood. She used to grow other things, too: radishes, cucumbers, maybe even a pepper or two. But in recent years, it's been just rhubarb in the spring and tomatoes in the late summer. 

She was never a master gardener, nor could I call her an intrepid farmer. And yet, the pleasure she took in her crops was unmistakable. Just last year, she sent me back home to Oregon with Ziploc bags of pink rhubarb for my freezer. All through September, she pressed warm tomatoes into the hands of her friends. 

Ursula lost things toward the end of her life — her eyesight, her mobility, her independence — but never did she lose the sense of growing things and sharing the fruits of her garden. 

So even though I rarely thought of her as a gardener, this year my grandma is inspiring me too. Her small victories in the garden are infectious. It's time to get planting.

reference-image, l