Wherever I have lived, my green-thumbed neighbors grew gardens that I envied for their beauty and abundance. Me, my name is Brown—and, alas, my gardening thumb matches.
When I lived in DeKalb, Illinois, I participated in the city garden program. I planned my space very carefully, putting the right plants together. I weeded, watered, fed, and fretted about my plot. The plants grew tall, and the plot looked great.
But at harvesttime, something seemed wrong. According to my chart, the peas were where the green beans should have been. Radishes came up where I had planted beets. And I didn’t even remember planting carrots.
My garden neighbors gathered and watched as I harvested the crops. I said to them, “I’m confused. These vegetables are not what I remember planting.”
They roared with laughter and told me, “When you weeded, you pulled out all the baby plants and left the weeds. We felt sorry for you and reseeded your plot.”
Ah, the kindness of neighbors and strangers.
After that mishap, I didn’t have a garden for several years. When the retirement community where I moved offered plots to anyone who wanted one, I decided to try again. I planted, cultivated, and watered faithfully. But remembering my past experience, I was afraid to pull anything until the plants bloomed.
I overheard owners of the neighboring plots commenting on how my plot looked. Their words were not complimentary. Honestly, I had to agree. The other plots were in nice rows and producing wonderful vegetables and flowers.
One morning, I was determined to improve my garden’s appearance. But I had trouble finding my 6-by-6 plot. The stake with my name was there, but the plot looked completely different. Someone, whether in desperation—the garden award people were coming that week—or out of kindness (or pity), had pulled all the weeds. It looked great, just like all the other plots.
That brings us to this year. Finally, I had some plants
grow in my back flowerbed, plants that I didn’t kill. I was excited beyond belief. They had little thorns on them, so I didn’t pull them out or try to put them in rows. I just let them grow—as tall as my thigh. I didn’t need to weed. I didn’t need to water. Whether they were in the sun or the shade, they grew straight and tall. I thought, What a wonderful, lovely ground cover. And the yellow finches love them!
One morning, while I was admiring my plants’ hardiness and color, Ron, a kindly older neighbor came over. His yard is the envy of the neighborhood and the type one sees on the cover of magazines. I feel delighted just looking at the flowers in his garden—and maybe even a little bit jealous. OK, a very big bit jealous.
“Barbara,” Ron said, “I see the thistles have taken over your back bed. Lots of thistles this year. Would you like help getting rid of them?”
Nearly in tears, I responded, “Yes, thank you, that would be great.”
“When you get back from your trip, we’ll kill and pull them out.”
But by the time I returned, the plants were all dead. I couldn’t even keep weeds alive. Ron saw me, walked over, and said kindly, “Not everyone has a green thumb. Maybe you have green eyes. After all, we need people who appreciate gardens, too.”
At last—good news! I have my very own first gardening success! One tomato plant in a container with new gardening soil seems to be working well for me. The plant looks great and has no weeds. My stunned neighbors approve, even Ron. Maybe my brown thumb will finally start to turn green.
The tomato already has. Time to pick it, right? ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #134.