On Safari in My Vegetable Garden

Posted on August 3, 2010


I have never had any interest in planting anything in the ground, tending it, watching it grow, and then eating it.  I assumed I was genetically unable to do so because for many generations in Eastern Europe, my family wasn’t permitted to own land, and so the farming genes were sort of erased.  But I’ve noticed over the last few years that I am being surrounded by a group of happy backyard farmer-types who pass their success stories on to me.  My ex writes emails about how he and his wife go out to their back 40, gather armfuls of vegetables (probably in handmade “horns of plenty”) , come back into the house and whip up world-class salads and vegetables to complement their dinner.   

My older son tends his garden with the reverence he used to reserve for his Nintendo Playstation.  He lives in Seattle and sends us photos of lush vegetables, followed by photos of the amazing food he has prepared with them. My younger son and his girlfriend start each day with a routine that includes watering, weeding, and lovingly staring at and talking to their happy brood of herbs, squash, peppers, whatever.  My son’s girlfriend is the Mother Earth of Herbs.  She’s never met an herb she doesn’t like and she’s never met an herb she can’t immediately toss into something.  Even my daughter, who lived in New York for years, managed to grow things in pots. 

I was starting to get a little intimidated.  I had always assumed that when I reached a certain age, I would wake up one morning with a burning desire to take a Master Gardeners Class and to fill my house with seeds, gloves, hats, implements with curved metal claws, and those catalogues that sell entire wardrobes of rubber clothing. 

Nothing happened.  Each day that passed, nothing happened.  Friends called or emailed me to tell me they had spent  ten hours today in their gardens.  The only thing that would make me spend ten hours in a garden would be if my house were invaded either by colonies of machete-wielding rats or by the cast of The Hills, and the garden afforded me some kind of protection.    I couldn’t shake the growing feeling of being inferior.  I was determined to give vegetable gardening a try.  First, I turned over all the photos of the Russian and Polish ancestors who were usually staring me down from the dining room walls.  Better they shouldn’t be watching this

 Last year, I announced my plan to start a vegetable garden to my husband, who used to live in a high rise condo.  
“What’s the matter with Safeway?” he asked.
“Our vegetables will be tastier, will be totally organic and will give us the ultimate satisfaction of eating something we have grown with our own hands.”
“Which one of your kids have you been talking to?  he asked.

We went to a nursery, got confused and left.

 “This isn’t working,” I told my husband.
“Safeway has broccoli on sale,” he countered.
“I refuse to eat another vegetable until I can eat one I have grown myself.”  I flung out this challenge with no hesitation at all, since, given the choice, I could easily live in a green-and-leafy-free zone.  

My husband and I went to another nursery and bought plants.  Then I called Jorge/George, our leaf person/mulcher/weeder/gutter cleaner/tree trimmer.  Jorge/George is a fabulous worker: efficient, knowledgeable, inexpensive, hard-working.  His only drawback is that he likes to climb trees.  Every time I go into the house and then come out, George is at the top of a tree with no ladder or equipment.  He always has a good reason.  We have tried cutting trees down, but George finds others to climb.  It’s tough, sometimes, to keep him on the ground.

“Here are plants,” I announced to Jorge/George.  Can you plant them in the best possible place on the property?”
Jorge/George said, “I know just the place.”
Within an hour, we had a vegetable garden, located in the absolute most inaccessible part of the property.  In order to reach it, I had to walk out to the street, down the neighbor’s driveway and back to where the air conditioner compressors were.  This was an area that I had always used in the past for the successful development of large, scary weeds.

“I think we have a problem,” I said to Jorge/George.
“No problem,” Jorge/George said.

 About 15 minutes later, I said to my husband, “I think we have a problem”
“I know,” he said.  “Jorge/George is up another tree in the backyard.”  

The garden was planted, and the rains came.  After the rains came, they came again.  The combination of constant rain each day, combined with my needing a passport to get to my own vegetable garden, and capped off by my lack of need to nurture small, growing things (the kids are long gone), resulted in the vegetable garden sort of being on its own, shall we say.  This would be the equivalent of me having left the house for say several days when my kids were little.  In other words, the vegetable garden ran amok.  Completely. It was a Bad Little Vegetable Garden, through no fault of its own.  

I visited occasionally, by way of my dining room window.  It was exactly like people who visit baby nurseries by standing at the glass wall and looking in, except those people are probably thinking “Oh, how cute!”  This is not what I was thinking.  And the worse the garden got, the fewer visits I made to the dining room window. 

Then, one day, a miracle occurred. A small, green tomato appeared.  Then another.  And another.  Our meetings increased in number.  We were overwhelmed.  We now had garden “issues” to discuss, like the fact that the tomatoes were now crawling across the neighbor’s driveway. 

One of the tomatoes turned red.  My husband and I met at the dining room window to confer.  Which one of us would go out there was the main topic of discussion.  Since I was wearing shoes, I was selected.  I made the trek to the street, along the neighbor’s driveway, down to the end where I was stopped by what looked like a scene from “Ramar of the Jungle.” (If you remember that kiddie show, you have permission to read this column).  I left, before tigers could leap out at me.  The garden had to manage itself.

This spring, the neighbors started a major renovation of their driveway, which meant the end of our little vegetable garden/jungle.  I have made a commitment to start a new garden next year, one that may not be as optimal for sunlight or soil, but will be located close to the front of the house, where I can simply step outside and tend to it.  I might even try to plant this myself, although if I need help, I can always call Jorge/George down from a tree.