I wouldn't say I have a green thumb based on a summer plus some of community garden plot ownership. But every time I'm there, sitting my behind in the dirt to pull weeds, to pick tomatoes and cultivate seeds and dirt into things we eat and enjoy, I feel like I could maybe, someday, in retirement with long grey hair in a braid, become one of those plant ladies.
We had a giant circular tulip bed in the house I grew up in. It would bloom every spring and I would go outside with my Mom, bare feet and biker shorts, with a basket and scissors to cut blooms for the vases inside. There were all the colors; white, pink, yellow, red. I don't even remember how often we did this routine when I was around 4-6 years old, but I have such a vivid memory of it.
The next summer, we moved from that house. I don't remember a lot of gardening after that. Until I was a preteen and we planted tulip bulbs wrong side up in the garage side garden bed. It would be about two years before anything even burst up from the dirt.
I was always more of an indoor kid, anyway. I preferred crafts in the air conditioning to nature and sweating. I preferred books to daydreaming, staring at the clouds. I preferred shoes to barefoot in the grass. I hated being dirty. But I do remember the first time stepping on my grandparents' freshly laid sod and loving the feeling. Like soft, satin ribbons of grass in between my toes.
Farmers markets became the hipster thing when I was in college but I always gravitated towards things I knew. Like strawberries or coffee. Ha! It was later that I ate peppers, green beans, pea pods, artisan lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes for the first time and I LOVED EVERY SINGLE BITE.
My body started to crave fresh produce, so much so that my tiny fridge in my first apartment was jam-packed with freshness rather than preservatives. It was amazing. I was cooking brussels sprouts, edamame and mixing everything with hot sauce - for breakfast! What a novel idea!
Spring 2017 came and we were engaged, planning our wedding. Friends asked if we wanted to go in on a community garden plot. I quickly scanned my memory bank and realized how much I wanted to actually love gardening, even though I'd never really truly invested in it. We said yes and gave it almost everything we had.
Nature is funny, in that you can plant a couple seed packets and water it diligently (sometimes letting nature itself water it!), only to return to your plot a day or two later and it's like a miracle right before your eyes. TOMATOES GROW FROM FLOWERS, GUYS. I didn't know this until I was 31.
I never ate anything that came from the actual ground that I planted with my own two hands until last summer. That lettuce stayed fresh in our fridge for longer than any store-bought lettuce ever did. And it was pure magic.
Picking tomatoes and making fresh panzanella salad? I DIED AND WENT STRAIGHT TO GARDEN HEAVEN.
This spring came and we decided to try our hand at this gardening thing again. Just my new husband and I - we could totally conquer this! We planted a tad later than we hoped, Minneapolis saw SO MUCH RAIN, then SO MUCH HUMIDITY and meanwhile, I'm saying my prayers every night, asking God to take care of our plants like a crazy plant lady (already winning! No grey hairs yet!).
I walked up to our plot one day and it was like someone dropped a bomb called CRAB GRASS on our beloved spot of 21st century pioneering refuge. And it just kept growing and multiplying, like the jerk weed crab grass is. If I ever met crab grass in a dark alley, let's just say ...
Schedules became busier and we had a few stretches of 90+ degree days where AC and a cold beer sounded better than getting out there to weed. Until one morning this week, when we both had had it UP TO HERE! My sweet husband, who never raises his voice or gets angry, yelled at the garden and its crab grass, swearing like a sailor. We came up with a plan to attack (out of crab grass's ear shot, of course).
We attacked. He went first, at dawn, to show it who was boss. I came later, to see that sweet husband, who has been through a thousand lives with me and then some, using the same garden shovel that my great-grandpa had used for decades. He refers to it as the Grandpa Jakie shovel and then I'm in the weeds, crying my eyes out.
It's not a coincidence that we attacked our garden on the day we laid my sweet great-grandfather to rest five years ago.
As I was sitting there, well, more like laying between tomato plants to get ALL THE WEEDS OUT, this thought came to me:
Gardening is a metaphor for marriage and relationships.
You get an idea, see a plant that you have a crush on (for me? tomatoes) and you decide to put something into making it blossom for yourself to enjoy. You find yourself buying the organic starter plants at the local garden store instead of the big box garden center, convincing yourself it's so worth it. Next thing you know, you're buying the expensive bag of organic, all natural compost-based fertilizer and about $100 later, you're ready. You clear your schedule to get to the garden, dig your hands in the dirt. It doesn't matter if you're even wearing gloves or not - because your plants love you regardless of what you're wearing! They know your heart.
You do your research and find that marigolds on the perimeter of the garden keep pests out. Great news! You'll do whatever it takes to keep this plot of heaven safe from creatures great and small. Safety first, garden!
What's even better? The entire time you're planting these seeds and starters, you can't have your phone out. You're unplugged, enjoying nature and all the magic of what's in store. You find yourself relishing in your hard work and you celebrate with ice cream! Hooray!
But then the work begins. You have to plan your schedule to ensure the garden is watered and cared for. You want to go out of town? You'd better find someone to water this thing! You see a small weed start to sprout and you pull it. Not too hard, this gardening thing.
During few days of rain and heat, you enjoyed the break from the work. You went out with friends, laughed and loved, all was well. The weather returns to normal summer temps and you return to the garden.
WHAT THE HECK. There are weeds sprouting like grass EVERYWHERE. There is not one square inch that is open dirt. What happened?! You were only gone like two days! You're wailing, the world is against you! How could this happen?!
You consider abandoning the plot. Jumping ship. The money you spent is already gone, it's not like anything is really lost or gained. Just chalk it up to experience.
But then you see it. A tomato just about to turn red or yellow. A jalapeño flower has the tiniest pepper growing from it! The lettuce you planted from the smallest seed is pushing up from the dirt. You're crying, you're so happy! Nature is happening right before your eyes!
This is worth it!
You put on your gloves and with a huge sigh, start pulling those weeds. Some are pretty deep, so you use a shovel to get it out at the roots. Because it you just pull out what you see, it's going to keep growing, festering and coming back. It's going to suck the nutrients from that tiny jalapeño, the almost-red and ready tomato! SHAME ON YOU, WEEDS.
What a sense of accomplishment to go from something you thought about abandoning to something clean, fresh and fruitful.
On our wedding day, my husband and I promised many things to each other. One is to not let issues or anger or hurt fester. To put on our big adult pants and tell the other person how we feel, because we've seen what happens when you do the opposite. It has always been worth it to be honest, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of the other partner and put that shovel in the ground to pull a pesky weed out at the root.
Hugs are the water after you pull out the weeds, hoping that with a little sunshine-filled smile, things will continue to grow and blossom.
Even when you feel the garden has abandoned you and weeds take over, it's worth it to invest the time into cleaning it up. It's an unpaid gig, unless you're a landscaper by trade. Sweat equity is a real thing and you'll probably feel drops of salt water headed straight into your eyeballs. After wiping it away, you encourage and spur each other on because you realize you simply cannot go it alone. I mean, you could, but it's far better, faster and more precious to take on the journey side by side.
I whole-heartedly believe that the good work of tending to our marriage is one of those real, sweet things of life.
Hugs to our wedding photographer & dear friend, Bernadette Fox, for the images used in this blog. You are the best! <3