In Spite of Me: A Garden Story

This is not a post about what an awesome gardener I am.

This past Spring, when we were planning our first real vegetable garden, my husband said to me: “I’m leaving the vegetables to you: you pick what we plant and where they go. You buy the seeds or plants. You put ‘em in the ground. You tend ‘em.” Etcetera.

This makes sense, because he takes care of pretty much every other square foot of garden space around here, of which there are many, and works hard to do it.

So I began my research on how to have a vegetable garden. Books are good right? So I started with a great one, Golden Gate Gardening. I leisurely (read randomly) flipped through pages and pretended I knew even what I was looking for. I made a ridiculously long list of what veggies I wanted to plant, and then felt my eyes glaze over while reading detailed care instructions. The more I read, the less inspired I got. So I did what any reasonable procrastinator would do: I stuck the list and the book next to my bed and left them there. I wallowed in feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared for a good three or four weeks.

Finally, in late April, I ventured out to a couple of nurseries, ridiculous list in hand, where I tried to mask my complete ignorance by tossing random plants onto the cart. I consulted that stupid list of desired veggies a few times before stuffing it in my backpack and deciding to use the scientific looks-OK-to-me approach to vegetable selection. I kept my eyes from glazing over by not letting them rest on anything for very long. And really, why do they make so many types of tomatoes? Just to make me feel stupid? I bet that’s it. They are evil that way.

I did get up enough nerve to ask a Nursery staff person something barely coherent about zucchini. She could have stamped NOVICE on my forehead and sent me packing, but she nicely referred me to the seed packet rack, and explained that most people start zucchini from seeds because they grow so quickly and easily. So I spent a few minutes spinning the rack around too fast to actually see what the seeds were, grabbed a few, paid my money and got out of there.

I even managed to get my zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce, and beets (2 kinds!) in the ground. Oh, and strawberries. And bell peppers.

Why start small? Why make it easier on myself, when I can set myself up to fail on a grand scale? This must be what I was thinking.

As the summer has progressed, here is how things have gone:

  • I did not properly stake the tomatoes – all 18 vines of them – when I planted them, so after procrastinating for weeks, I spent several hours over two days thinning through massively overgrown plants and throwing together a staking system. I ended up tossing out a huge pile of greenery. That made me want to weep a little bit.

  • I did something wrong with at least half of the green beans, which withered and died rather quickly. Good thing I overdid it on them too: I still have four great vines and 2 wimpy ones.

  • The broccoli? Mostly a failed experience. Mostly because I ignored that bed.

  • The leaf lettuce? Worked out pretty well, but I didn’t keep up with harvesting, so now they are the tallest lettuce plants you’ve ever seen and probably bitter, if I could bring myself to go out there and trim some.

  • The radishes? Pretty good – got some yummy, spicy veggies – but again, I didn’t harvest fast enough and most of them went to flower before I pulled them. Lots went to waste.

  • The beets? Didn’t even notice they were ready until waaaaaaaay too late. Perhaps this was subconsciously intentional, since I cannot stand beets and had only included them for my spouse. Total waste.

  • The cucumbers? Jury is still out. I can’t actually see any fruit and no one told me the plant is prickly.

I am a neglectful gardener, grudgingly checking on my plants and lazily watching the lettuce get away from me. If not for the 11th hour resentment-filled tomato staking, I would have lost them completely.

When I think of people who keep vegetable gardens, I think of industrious, tidy, organized people who have the right sun hat, the right gloves, and peaceful relationships with their plants. I am none of these and have none of these. I am haphazard and occasional in my vegetable tending. I am usually wearing the wrong shoes for gardening, and cursing when dirt falls between my flip-flopped toes. I wear gloves when I can find them. The primary emotion I feel toward my vegetables is guilt.

But here’s what else has happened.

  • My zucchini plants are doing marvelously well. They took over a large bed and they affirm me every time I look at them. I didn't even know a vegetable could do that, let alone a squash.

  • My tomatoes, slow to turn red, are arriving in droves and the smell is heavenly, the very smell of summer.

  • My green beans, although irresistible to small children who eat them as fast as they grow making it impossible for me to serve beans for dinner, are fat, sweet and pleasing.

  • My carrots! Pulling a homegrown carrot out of the ground is a singular experience.

And so it seems that my garden, much like my family, is growing and thriving in spite of me. Clueless, reluctant, novice me has happily served salad and zucchini (bbq’d, sautéed, steamed and latke-ed) to my family for at least a month, carrots and green beans for a couple of weeks. We can't wait for all those tomatoes to burden us with their plenty. My kids have enjoyed checking on the plants and watching the progress, which is good, given that whole laziness thing I’ve got goin’ on.

So this is a post about not having a perfect garden and about making tons of mistakes along the way, and still harvesting pictures like this from my efforts:

Shred potatoes and zucchini; I used a cheese grater.
Mix in some flour and egg to bind the shredded stuff together.
Spoon the mixture into hot olive oil and fry the heck out of it.
Enjoy. Everyone in my family who was brave enough to try it liked it.
Those who weren't that brave missed out,
and had to settle for regular old zucchini sauteed in garlic and lemon.

* * *


Sandy said…
sounds a lot like kids...they never need tending when you want to tend them and some of them thrive in spite of (or maybe because of)
Homemaker Man said…
My wife read this out loud and we laughed and laughed. We're (my wife mostly) fledgling gardeners ourselves. We started a little smaller than you did. And by a little I mean a lot.

Our strawberries are sour, our cherry tomatoes are too sweet, the cilantro told us to go eff ourselves early on, and the parsley is growing at what could only be called a resentful rate. Other herbs doing well, though.
Mama Monica said…
Sandy, we always say that our youngest is the most free and independent of our kids, thanks to all the neglect she "suffers" from!

And HM: I hate it when cilantro gets all mouthy.
Erika said…
Don't beat yourself about the garden. This cold has been terrible gardening weather, and my plants that usually do great are sadly stunted. I'm hoping a hot september will bring lots of tomatoes and green beans and pumpkins. PS, if you have extra zuchinnis, you can bring them my way.

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