I am a neglectful gardener. I love the planning process. The reading gardening books. Shopping for seeds. Drawing plans out on graph paper. Researching what will grow best in my 4×6 raised bed. I am very good at these things. I check out all the right books from the library. Ask all the right questions of the Master Gardeners at the South Minneapolis Gardening Hub. I take detailed notes and am an excellent gardener. On paper.
The execution, however? Not my thing. I can get seeds and plants into the ground and then, somehow, I feel like my job should be done. But it isn’t. You have to water your garden. All the time. Even when you get home from work late and you’re exhausted and it’s 90 degrees outside. You have to pull weeds and make sure frisky squirrels aren’t stealing your tomatillos before they have a chance to grow. You have to get up off your ass on Saturday morning and get your hands in the dirt, which sometimes means turning down brunch plans with your girlfriends.
My grandmother was a gardener. She was a farm wife with a talent for flowers. She managed to find time to lovingly care for her vegetables in between the chores and the cooking and raising 4 children. She was a goddess.
She understood the seasonality of life. She respected the earth and sacrificed her time and energy to grow beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables to feed her family. She worked hard throughout the spring and summer, canned and preserved in the fall and fed her family all winter.
And every time I step outside and approach my tiny garden, I silently wish for Leone’s wisdom. I pray for her knowledge and her work ethic and her instinct.
She died when I was two or three, I can never remember exactly when and my mother doesn’t like to talk about it. She died before I had the chance to ask her a million questions and learn from her. She died before I ever had a chance to know her.
I’d like to think she’s there with me. That she’s looking down at me in the late-May sunshine as I’m planting. That she makes it rain in June when it’s been dry for weeks.
And I’m absolutely certain Leone is the reason I’ve been able to successfully grow tomatoes for the last two years, even though everything else I’ve planted withers. I plant 4 tomato plants and prepare everything perfectly. But then life gets in the way. But my grandmother, she makes sure the squirrels don’t take all of my tomatoes. She makes sure I have enough to can a few jars of marinara in the fall. Then, in December, when I pull the jar of tomato sauce out of the pantry and onto the stove for pasta, I think of her and I thank her. The tomato sauce tastes like summer and sunshine and it’s almost like we’re eating dinner together.
This year will be different. This year, I will plan like always but I will also plan to act. Plan to water, plan to tend and weed and be patient. Plan to be rewarded when my hard work results in tender summer squash and snap peas. I plan on enjoying Caprese salad in August with freshly plucked basil, ripe tomatoes, and creamy mozzarella; just a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil to bring out the natural flavors. The flavors I helped coax out of the earth.
This year will be different. I will remember how I feel after an afternoon spent with dirt under my fingernails. How my bones ache with a delicious exhaustion and my mind buzzes with fresh air. I will feel the connection to growers past, my grandmother, to agrarians from centuries ago who didn’t use growing food as therapy but as survival.
This year will be different.