I had definitely decided to give up fruit and vegetable gardening. Just flowers from now on. Oh, I’ll keep the pumpkin and gourd patch that spreads over the side yard—if the seedlings survive the beetles. And I do love straight-from-the-stalk sweet corn.
But that’s it. Goodbye broccoli and lettuce that only fed the woodchucks. Adios melons and beans that deer ate to stubs three times a season. Sayonara woody rutabagas and deformed carrots. Farewell peas that turn starchy at the first sign of heat.
At the half-century mark, I’d grown weary of digging and hoeing and staking and watering and fighting bugs and wildlife.
Then why in late November was I clearing two feet of surprise snow to heel in fruit trees and berry plants?
Why was I saving—not destroying—seed catalogs?The grandchildren.
It started when two-year-old Maddie followed me to the vegetable garden one sunny day. I showed her the broccoli heads just beginning to form, then pointed out where the Brussels sprouts would appear. We inspected the baby cukes and the tiny green tomatoes. She searched the corn stocks, as tall as she, for ears. Then we strolled over to the towering mulberry tree and munched on ripening berries from the lower branches.
“Why don’t I have my own garden?” she asked me.
Up to the house we flew. We grabbed some leftover vegetable seeds. Then we cleared a small space in the garden and she planted her own carrots, lettuce, and spinach—items that would show growth quickly. She kept a close eye on them as they matured.
One day she looked up from her vegetables and called out, “Berries! In the forest!” To a two-year-old, my tangled patch of raspberries and wild blackberries outside the garden was indeed a forest. We picked berries and popped them in our mouths.
Suddenly she demanded, “Now let’s go to the field and have a corn picnic!”
We snapped off a few ripe ears of corn. “Now take me to the field,” I told her, wondering where she would guide me.
She led me to a tiny area that was mulched with straw. “Sit down,” she instructed. And there in the little three-by-four-foot field, we picnicked on the sweetest corn in the world.
That autumn Maddie helped me plant my flower bulbs. The next spring she had her own flowerbed of zinnia and cosmos seeds. She carefully monitored her little vegetable garden and kept a close eye on the berry forest.
Maddie turned four and her brother, Ethan, two. One afternoon this past summer, the two children and I spent an hour bending down the mulberry’s lower branches and tying them to tent stakes we hammered into the ground. We ran in and out the passageways of this new clubhouse, then after a lunch of its berries, took a nap under the canopy of leaves.
“We don’t have enough fruit,” Maddie murmured sadly. “Just berries and this tree. We need blueberries and cherries and plums. We need more blackberries and raspberries.”
“Sure,” I replied cheerfully—thinking this, too, shall pass.
Soon fall garden catalogs arrived. I truly don’t know what possessed me. I ordered yellow raspberries, thornless blackberries, blueberry bushes, two plum trees, and two cherry trees—all of which would arrive in time for planting before the first snows.
That’s how I ended up clearing two feet of surprise snow from mucky ground to heel in all those plants. When I was done, I went up to the house and loaded the woodstove. I made a pot of coffee and settled in a chair with my steaming mug—and a pile of seed catalogs.
Let’s see, there are three new varieties of super sweet corn for them to try. And Ethan really loved picking peas, so I’ll need to plant extra (to make up for the ones he’ll trample). Lots of carrots—they both like to pull up seedlings to check on their growth. And they love Brussels sprouts and broccoli and got a real kick out of thrashing dried bean pods in a pillowcase…
Yes, I had decided to give up fruit and vegetable gardening. But seeing the miracle of sprouting seeds and ripening fruit through the eyes of tiny children had restored my weary bones and my desire to dig and hoe and weed. Too soon these kids would have homework and after-school sports. Too soon there’d be no time for the wonders of nature with their grandparents.
Just a few more years, and then I’ll stick to flowers. For now, there are memories to plant. ❖
This article was published originally in 2015, in GreenPrints Issue #104.