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Gardening…Dare I Dream?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

I have a Pinterest board called “Gardening…Dare I Dream?” because even though I have always been abysmal gardener, I can’t shake these vivid, bucolic fantasies that I may one day grow beautiful, healthful produce in my very own back yard. After all, my dad is a great gardener and can bend plants of all types to his will. Pepper plants tremble before him and lettuces quiver at the might of his harvesting shears. On the other side of my family, my Papaw was a tobacco farmer in his youth and a prolific backyard gardener in his later years. Memories of tinkering around in the garden with him fuel these fantasies to the point that a few times I’ve been overcome with hope and actually planted things in the soil. I literally have farmer’s blood – this should be no problem. But there is a problem. There is always is a problem.

The first time I committed “attempted gardening” was when Jacob and I lived in Columbus, Ohio. We weren’t even married yet so it must have been the summer of 2000. I went outside and dug up a 2’x2’ square next to the back porch of our duplex house with a hand trowel. There I planted some random seeds in soil better suited for throwing pottery than growing crops. Precious little grew and I had no desire to crouch among filth and bugs to pluck weeds in the summer heat. At harvest time we gathered a few knobby carrots that were comparable to a shooter marble in size, shape, and density. Oh well, better luck next time, I thought.

Three years later, I discovered container gardening. I deduced that hard soil (and not lack of water, fertilizer or proper sunlight) was the reason my carrots turned out badly. Containers of optimally blended potting soil were going to solve all my gardening woes. I got a transplanted piece of garlic chive from a green-thumbed friend and I bought a tomato plant from the garden center at Walmart. The tomato was wilted dead from thirst before the first blossom could open. Surprisingly, the garlic chives took off like gangbusters in spite of my neglect. It was only then that I realized I didn’t know what to do with a garlic chive apart from sprinkling it on baked potatoes, which my husband hates. On a side note, that townhome had slugs on the porch; they were super gross and creeped me out so I really did prefer to stay indoors.

For the next several summers I tamped down my urges, but when we moved to Phoenix, purchased a home, and I learned that there were two growing seasons per year here, all restraint was lost. Obviously this was the solution to my problem. It wasn’t that I was a bad gardener, I reasoned, it was just that I needed more practice. This was an opportunity. Plus, now we were official first-time homeowners with a fenced yard. Sure, it was a horrid, barren little yard, but it was ours and maybe a lush veggie patch was just the thing to inspire us to really get into landscaping and outdoor living.

I hit the library for a stack of gardening books and the home improvement store for many dollars’ worth of hoes and shovels and such. This time, I decided I was going to do a recessed bed so I could turn the hose on it and soak the space to irrigate the plants. I nearly broke my back trying to turn the soil, which was baked hard as brick by the desert sun. I might have seen this as foreshadowing the garden’s fate, but I was intent on my verdant goal. I considered renting a tiller because this time I was mostly sure it was probably going to totally work. In the end I decided not to because but just in case – on the off chance it didn’t go well – I didn’t want to invest too much cash. A month later when my plants were choked out by weeds and outdoor temps soared well above 110 degrees, I lost all interest. My husband started watering the plants in an effort to save them from my (repeat-offender style) abandonment but when he saw how little I cared he gave up too. The total of our harvest was a fistful of Thai red chiles and two medicinal-tasting cucumbers. Thus ended the gardening ordeal of 2008.


Henry helps reap the bounty of our doomed garden

You would think that by now I would be done with gardening fantasies. It is pretty clear that I like the idea of gardening much more than the actual doing, that I don’t want to make a significant investment of dollars or hours, and that once it gets hot out I’m likely to cut and run, leaving the little plants to fend for themselves. On top of all of this, my husband vehemently discourages all gardening talk. I don’t blame him and I don’t consider him unsupportive because he speaks truth. Time and again I’ve proven myself untrustworthy with seedlings. That’s why I was a little bit nervous for him to see the heirloom tomato starter I brought home from the farmer’s market last spring.

This time is it, I thought to myself. I think it could be different – I could be different. Yeah, I know I’ve said it all before, but I felt good about this attempt. I built up two 2’x2’x1’ raised beds right near the hose bib and in a place where they get some afternoon shade from the shadow of the house. Next, I filled the beds with good potting soil and nestled in the little starter. I set up a tomato cage and gently tied the limbs up with twine so my plant could grow strong and true. In the next bed I planted basil, rosemary and oregano which are herbs I actually use and know what to do with.

Things went well for a while, but once again it got hot out and once again I had a derelict weed patch where my garden once stood. The heirloom tomato is dead. The herbs are dead. I officially quit. I am never, ever gardening again. In fact, if you ever find yourself in the garden center at The Home Depot and catch me in one of my gardening-fantasy stupors, please stop me. Maybe even warn an employee about my tendencies so they can deny me service.

You can save the Earth one plant at a time…by keeping them safe from me, The Plantslayer.