Once upon a time, I wanted to be a gardener. Tending rows of vegetables bursting off the vine and basking over beds of hydrangea, these were the stuff of dreams back when I thought chlamydia was a plant.
I envisioned growing all my own vegetables, spending sunny days in the backyard, plotting to weed while getting the perfect summer tan. I don’t know which was more ridiculous, thinking an STD was clematis or that a bathing suit was appropriate garden garb. Either way, I was full of inspiration and vision. Far from my expectations were mile-long earthworms, relentless thieving squirrels and the rotting matter that creates compost.
First, I must let you know there were skeptics in my midst. Foremost, my husband, whose own cacti and succulents soared to the rafters. When we met, I, too, had an apartment full of plants. Yes, they were dead. But I had plants! Philodendron, aloe and some fuzzy-leafed item I was told was an African violet. Looking at that flowerless moribund perennial, I felt like I let an entire continent down.
That’s the thing about dying plants – they are a very clear reminder that one is not up to the task at hand. But I endeavored to not let this stop me. Meanwhile, my yet-to-be husband felt such sorrow for my withering plants, he entered my home as if Prince Charming. Not to rescue me, mind you, but the potted lifeforms that dotted my shelves. Try as he would, he could never stay on top of my ineptitude. Not that I didn’t make an effort. I overwatered religiously and relocated plants from one window to another, begging them to like the view.
Upon occasion of us moving in together, I did what not only seemed necessary, but truly liberating. I gave up my plants, feeling the weight of a thousand pots lift from my back. Ironically, it was this exact gesture that made room for the possibility of a garden to flourish. Years later, I sold my husband on my grand plan. He tilled the earth, fenced the area and grew my confidence, while I set out to plant a masterpiece.
My one and only garden taught me many things, the primary of which is an adage I still use to this day: “It’s all an experiment.” Those four words allowed me to play in the dirt and not worry about how it would all come out. If I grew one cucumber, I’d be ecstatic. There have been many times when it’s helped me to remember that, indeed, all of life is an experiment.
I learned other things too, like working in a garden is hot, dirty business and no place for a bikini. And the final pearl? Weeding sucks. I know, such an inelegant word to use. I honor all you gardeners out there, but I’m afraid the weeding gene is not in my DNA.
This was concretized one day in late August when my husband took the weed whacker into my shoulder-high jungle of a garden in order to liberate some tomatoes. I still remember that harvest. It ended with spackle-buckets of ripe red beauties and a look on my husband’s face reminiscent of those days back in my apartment. He never said a word, but to this day, I know what he was thinking: “Wow, what a great gardener.”
Carole Vasta Folley is an award-winning Vermont playwright and columnist. Visit carolevf.com.