Why Bother?

If you can’t garden well, why do it at all?

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTINA HESS

I admit it. I’m not a good gardener. I have killed or badly damaged most of my plants (housebound and otherwise) by lack of correct care. Oh, I try. I put them on watering schedules. I repot. I prune. I weed. I debug. I don’t mean to kill them—I promise!

Sometimes I see a limp-leaved plant in overly moist soil, so I leave its pot be for a few days, only to return to a dried-out prune. Or I set my plant by a window only to find later it’s getting too much sun—or too little! I can’t win.

I started six years ago when Adam and I married and bought our first home. My first attempt was a few pots on our little patio. They thrived, producing habaneros, jalapeños, tomatoes, and basil. I worked out there twice a day, picking off hornworms, shooing away grasshoppers, watering. I sweated through my T-shirt and shorts. And while I was trying to rid my garden of invasive bugs, I caught one myself: the gardening bug.

“Maybe gardening is just for old people,” Adam said. “Folks who don’t have a lot else to do.”

I was hooked.

I wanted more, so the next year I bought a little greenhouse box and attempted starting from seed. My sprouts grew flimsy and thin. When I put them in the garden, they slumped over and died. I later learned that they’d been raised without enough light.

The third year I tried again. Adam didn’t want anything to do with it, so a friend of mine and I rented a tiller and got to work. We broke apart the Kansas sod and clay. I planted eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, herbs, jalapeños—and watermelons for fun. My plants started out fine, but then one day I noticed that they were all growing sideways. I couldn’t figure it out until the day I got off work early and came home to tend the garden. I went outside to my little plot—and felt like I was standing inside a wind tunnel! I had planted the garden on the side of our house. Our neighbor’s house was so close that any wind got caught between the two houses and shot with gale force straight toward my baby plants! It was most windy during the day when I was at work, so I’d never noticed it before.

Year Four: It was July, I’d moved my garden to a less windy spot, and my bell peppers were just starting to come in. Success was this close! But then the summer heat hit. I was in my fifth month of pregnancy—with twins. The temperatures sweltered. I’d get a heat rash walking from the office to my car. I had to avoid the outdoors—and my garden.

The next two years were busy with newborn twins, moving, and squatting with family for ten months. And that brings us to now.

Adam and I moved to our home this February, which—lo and behold—had a small, old garden spot in a back corner of our yard. I was elated.

Planting time rolled around. I purchased and set out some starts, but relentlessly resprouting grass and relentlessly biting chiggers made things difficult. Then heavy rains that flooded part of the state stunted some of my vegetables.

Adam heard me talking about my gardening problems. “You don’t have enough time to give the garden the attention it needs,” he said. “Maybe gardening is just for old people, folks who don’t have a lot else to do. I mean, if you can’t do it well, why do it at all?” His words stung. Tears gathered in my eyes.

Then he added, “Why bother if you’re not good at it?”

Why bother? I thought. Why bother? That did it. I looked straight at him.

“I bother because gardening is common ground for most everybody I run into or work with. It gives us something to share and bond over. I bother because it’s something I like to do. It relaxes me. It helps me de-stress. I bother because I like being outside. I like taking care of my plants and ridding them of pests.

“I bother because I learn something new every year. I learn how certain plants like to be kept and how much water they need from me. Most important, when I look back, I don’t see failures. I look back and remember doing something I love.

That’s why I bother.”

Adam heard me. He was even a bit abashed. He made a comment about how next year the twins will be old enough to start learning and helping. He even said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask him to take care of something in the house when I want to go out and enjoy my garden.

He’s actually kind of behind me now.

As for me, what with the kids, our busyness, my inexperience, etc., my gardening may still be hit or miss for quite a while yet. But you can bet on two things. One, I’m going to keep at it. Two, some day I will be an old person, with silver hair and a big floppy hat, sitting in my patio set and drinking lemonade out of a mason jar—right by my big, overflowing, amazing garden.

And proud of it.


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