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Gardening Reflections: Past and Present

Paula Ebert headshotEvery year I say to myself that I’m not going to let the garden get out of hand. And every year I fail. We had it whipped into shape for the 4-H club tour, that ended at our house, and one week later (after spending the intervening week at the County Fair), the garden looks like something in an abandoned lot.

How do people do it? Those marvelous people who have clean, neat, gardens? I suspect they lay down a pre-emergent herbicide. The cheaters. Maybe I’ll do that next year … I remember my little raised-bed garden in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. About six raised beds, with my six tomatoes, little strawberries, cucumbers, a few jalapenos, okra that it turned out no one wanted to eat. It was all so little and manageable. Every morning before I went to work, I’d go out and lovingly pluck off the runners from the tomatoes, tuck them up into the cages, pull a few weeds …

Here I have this huge garden space that I feel compelled to fill with 15 tomato plants, cucumbers, squash, muskmelons, onions, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, watermelon. No okra. But it is overwhelming, particularly with a part time job and full time graduate school.

The sign at the end of our lane


I was also thinking about my mother-in-law. You see, I’m married recently to a farmer, and although I never knew his mother, we live in her house. This year, none of the fruits set fruit. Last year, we had one “apricot emergency” after another, as I’d come home and the apricots had to be put up that evening. This year, due to some weather problem, most of the people around here had small or nonexistent fruit crops. I wondered what I would do if feeding my family depended upon the fruit crop, or the potato crop, which used to be a five acre site for her and her husband’s nine children, shared with acres of sweet corn. It puts a totally different spin on the garden. I garden for fun, most of the time, I think, unless I’m tired of pulling weeds, whereupon I think I’m gardening out of some sort of masochism. But what if it were literally the substance for my family, not just a desire for better tomatoes?

I’m going to ruminate on this while I take a hot bath and soak my aching back.