The renewal notice came due for my community garden plot and I tried not to open it. To ignore it.
Guilt flooded in. Guilt because of the way I neglected my tomatoes last year. I planted them and then promptly left for Europe, completely abandoning my plant babies.
I came home to putrid stalks and accusatory weeds. I couldn’t face it. I didn’t go back for months. My tomato cages were stolen. The weeds grew chest high.
“Please let us know if you intend to plant your garden plot this spring,” the email said, when I finally dared open it, “and please stop by to weed asap.”
“We really don’t have the time,” my husband sighed, as I read the letter out loud.
My head hung in shame. We argue over the expense of the garden every year, and every other year the arguments ended with us deciding it was definitely worth it. We were rewarded with produce.
But more than that, we were rewarded with a sense of self sufficiency that comes with farmer’s tans, sore muscles and more zucchini than you know what to do with. We didn’t just learn about growing heirloom tomatoes, we learned about ourselves.
Cucumbers taught me that I have issues with routine.
The Japanese ones grew bitter and the Lemon ones got bugs when my irregular watering habits got to be too much for their delicate water-loving stalks. Cucumbers are creatures of (wet) habit. They forced me to commit, or stop overcommitting myself
Melons taught me that sometimes it’s not a bad things to be a little paranoid.
I needed to guard against theives. When rats (or raccoons or some other creature of the night) took large man sized bites out of our finally ripe and juicy French cantaloupes, I mourned the loss. 90 days of nurturing to feed a rat.
Onions and carrots taught me patience.
So much is happening beneath the surface. It’s tempting to pull them out to check. But it’s better if you wait. Trust.
Zucchini helped with my self esteem, and made me believe in magic.
Pretty much no matter what I did, there was a new waiting for me each day. Baseball bat sized vegetables seemed to appear out of the ether, laying in wait beneath broad spiky leaves. Success!
Peppers made me humble.
I really thought I knew what I was doing each time I planted them, but by the time they were ripe I inevitably forgot which ones were supposed to be red and which ones were supposed to be green so I never ever knew when to pick them. I was always getting it wrong.
The tomatoes were my favorite. So many heirloom and hybrid varieties, both large and small, connecting past and present.
Choosing and growing unique tomatoes, for me, was a delight not unlike choosing my children’s rockstar style names. Green Zebras and Kellogg Breakfast. Black Krim and Mr Stripey. A hot pink Mortgage Lifter just because.
My guilt about last summer’s garden fail was unreasonable, all out of proportion. They were just plants.
On the last day to renew the plot, an article about gardening and depression landed in my inbox. Gardening can lift depression, it claimed. It may be as effective as some anti depressant drugs.
We paid the bill. We cleared the debris.
A week later my weeds were pulled and my garden was ready to be planted. I stuck to the plants that make me happiest. The ones that I’ve had the most luck with. I wiggled my fingers and toes in the fresh tilled earth and made new wishes as I worked on my farmer tan.
Why not? Gardening is cheaper than therapy.