So my gardening thing all began with a Christmas present. Someone gave my daughter – or me, I’m not sure which – a potted plant as a gift. A philodendron cutting, to be precise. Emma was four that year and her interest took off. It happened that I’d been taking her out with a field guide to learn wild plants all summer long, so the gift fit in pretty neatly with out interests. Emma couldn’t write all her letters yet, but she could point out wood sorrel in a heartbeat – a split second before she’d scarf it down greedily.
After she showed so much interest in this potted plant, I thought maybe a small garden was in order. We live in an apartment without much usable green space – neighbors with dogs, that’s all I’ll say about that – so the only space we could use is the tiny front garden and any containers we could get going.
The containers were a no go for Emma and I. I couldn’t remember to water them every day, and it was hard to find containers that were big enough, fit our budget ($0), and weren’t completely hideous. It’s so disheartening to grow a garden in a bunch of ugly plastic things. The front garden, though – the front garden took off.
I was raised, if not technically on the family farm, then heavily involved in it, and in an oversized garden of my parents’, too. At the time I resented it - the weeding, the work, the dirt. As an adult, I miss it, and every spring I get a little bit nutty when the seed catalogs come out. I am rarely able to resist buying at least one packet, and often buy those little greenhouses with the flats for sprouting young plants. I just tend to kill them all before anything comes of it.
This year I was determined to grow something, anything, and keep it alive. Given the criteria, I chose to skip the little greenhouses. I knew peas were easy, so I got those. I’d heard that lettuce was, too (and besides, you can grow it in window boxes), so that was in. I even got a mini-melon-thing I read about in Johnny’s seed catalog, a saucy French number called charantais, and hoped that I might be able to keep it in a big container.
Well, the melons failed. The peas may have put out a few dozen pods, but no more than that (although at least I got a taste!). But the lettuce went wild, and we ate salad after salad for ages until it got too bitter to eat (I somehow failed to learn about “bolting” until well after this).
I also got a few herbs, plants rather than seeds, to try out. Basil and parsley went into salads and spaghetti sauce; chives went into just salads – I had a hard time coming up with uses for it. Peppermint and spearmint went into iced tea, hot tea, and made the occasional pot of fresh herbal tea, too.
The thing that surprised me in all this was the difference it made. I had started out the season deeply disheartened by how limited we were because of space - and if it weren’t for Emma, I wouldn’t have bothered trying. Then, so many plants failed; here we had a tiny plot where all that really grew were some lettuce plants and a handful of herbs.
But the change in our quality of life was huge! Emma learned a great deal more about plants. We both got to do something entertaining and healthy, filling summer days with something so much better than Spongebob reruns. And we all got to eat some really good, can’t-get-any-fresher food.
And there really can’t be enough said about ending the day this way: the children are in bed. The mom is ready to relax. So she goes to her front steps barefoot, snips a few stems of mint, and makes herself an entire pot of relaxing tea. It doesn’t matter that it’s summer and the tea is hot; she’s totally happy to curl up with a cuppa and the contented feeling of growing things herself.