Becky Rupp first wrote for GreenPrints way back in Issue #2 (“Reading in the Garden,” a wonderful, wonderful 7-page justification of horticultural idleness). She didn’t become a regular Contributing Editor, though, until #58 (“Remedial Weeding,” a classic about using weeding to get over people who make you really, really angry). GP is privileged to feature her work: Becky’s superb writing is always a stunning combination of erudition, whimsy, insight, and wit—all rendered in a deceptively smooth, self-deprecating style. Thank you, Becky!
Here we have just one of my favorite Rupp essays . . .
Feeling stressed? Gardeners know the cure.
By Becky Rupp.
Illustration by Blanche Derby
Last week, while driving home from the library at four o’clock in the afternoon, I blocked the driveway of our local Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant. I didn’t mean to block the Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant; there was a panel truck in front of me and somewhere ahead of that a traffic light had turned red, leaving me stranded in front of a bubblegum-pink sign that said ENTRANCE.
This might have been all right—small-town Vermont is a reasonably laid-back environment; most of us can wait out a red light in relative tranquility—except for a woman in a gray Chevrolet who wanted to turn into the Dunkin’ Donuts now. She honked, and then honked again, louder and longer. I made apologetic faces, indicative of my inability to budge; and she rolled down her window, screamed unprintable names, and made finger gestures.
Ten seconds later the light changed.
She roared into the Dunkin’ Donuts. I went home and weeded the lettuce.
People! Sometimes the thing I like best about the garden is that there’s nobody else in it.
I have friends who, in emotional extremis, favor bubble baths, five-mile jogs, psychotherapists, or bottles of gin. I, however, have always favored weeding, solitary weeding. Gardens, along with vegetables and zinnias, dispense calm, comfort, and perspective. There’s something soothing about green and dirt; as you crawl about by yourself, pulling up invasive stuff in the cucumbers, the jagged disruptions of even the most dreadful days, begin to smooth themselves over. A garden exemplifies placid common sense. Give it a chance and it takes you outside yourself, reminding you that—for all your petty fretting—the planet is still spinning along.
There’s an unmistakably remedial aspect to weeding. It’s a cathartic activity. Yank up crabgrass, peppergrass, knotweed, and horsetail; tear out (cautiously, with gloves) the awful stuff that my field guide refers to as Horrible thistle; obliterate hawkweed, ragwort, and prickly lettuce.
Weed long enough and you’ll feel better. You’ll even start to come around on the people thing. Some people, after all, are your loved ones: your spouse, your children, your dearest friends, people without whom your life would be sad and dull, devoid of laughter, conversation, hugs, and shared peanut-butter toast. We need each other, and after an hour or so interacting with chickweed and dandelions, this begins to look once again like a positive proposition.
Which brings me back to the woman in the gray Chevrolet. I’ll doubtless never know what drove her to the point of shrieking at a perfect stranger inadvertently blocking the Donut lane. It could have been whining children, a delinquent babysitter, nasty neighbors, a surly husband, or a tyrannical boss. Her day could have been beset with tax collectors, broken pipes, and flat tires. She probably thought she needed a doughnut.
But I can tell you what she really needs.
She needs a garden.
To peek at Becky’s collection of curious-and-true stories aboutd common vegetables, click on the cover right here: