A Patch of Dirt

The favorite room in my house is my garden.  I like to drink coffee on the deck and look down on it in the mornings, listening to the birds sing as they peck and flutter about.  It radiates a certain energy after an overnight shower when I can smell the wet dirt and see the water pooled on the Brussel sprout leaves.  The emergent sunflower plants tower over the common vegetables, head-bent, like officiating priests.  I plant it roughly the same every year around Mother’s Day.  The garden is in the shape of an L.  The seed crops–my lettuces, radishes and beets–are grown closest to the house while the peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and squashes fill out the rest with a rose bush in the middle of it all.  I never get tired of looking at it.  When we first bought the house, the garden was a small patch of strawberries and an overgrown cluster of chives.  It was a nice start, but I wanted more.  I purchased a pitch fork and expanded it.  For three years, I made it bigger each spring until, finally, I had decided that it was as big as the shade of the house and the red pine would allow.

This year, with reluctance, I put up a fence.  The rabbits have never touched the lettuce.  The abundant clover and dandelions in our delightfully imperfect yards seem to satisfy them.  No, the fence was put up to keep out the neighbor girl who tramples through life without any concept of border.  Her father helped me wire up the fencing and I pretended as best I could that, yes, I was tired of all the rabbits.  Miles did not like the fence either.  He enjoyed the long spring when he had all that mud to himself so he could wallow with his tractors and shovel.  He was none too welcoming of my Mother’s Day plantings either.  When the fence poles were pounded into the dirt, we left an odd rectangle for his digging.  He protested, but he got over it.  Now a butternut vine pokes through the wiring into his private rectangle and has given birth to a green squash.  When the children are old enough, the fence will be gone.  Gardens are not meant to be fenced any more than bison or prairie.  My garden is a part of nature, not an exception to it.

Emily believes the L of the garden should be extended to the sidewalks.  She thinks the small patches of grass I have left at each end are an inconvenience to mow and shrink the garden unnecessarily.  It seems my mind is a slave to the right angle.  I like the perfect L shape.  I like the pavers the way they are.  She has threatened to extend it herself someday.  “The garden is half mine,” she tells me.  I always gnash my teeth and let it pass.  If she wants to say the house is half hers, fine.  She makes as much as I do, I didn’t build the thing.  But the garden is more mine than hers.  I am sure she derives as much enjoyment from looking at it as I do.  I know she loves to eat the vegetables that wind up in our stir fries and salads.  But she has never planted anything in it.  When we first moved in I tried to involve her in it and teach her.  She never showed an interest.  This year, I had my four-year-old son drop the peas into the holes I made with my finger along the neighbor’s fence.  She has never touched the pitch fork.  I am not sure what end of it she would know to pick up.  She has weeded occasionally, I will give her that.  But invariably, when I have invited her to water, I will come home to find the ground parched and the plants wilting.  When I complain she answers, “The garden is your thing.  You will only complain about anything I do.”

Her words, I suppose, complete my point.  It is my garden, at least as much as any living thing can belong to someone.  I like people to look at it, but I really want them to stay out.  It does have a fence and it is entirely psychological.

It is nearly August.  A cauliflower asks to be picked.  The bib lettuce is about to bolt.  Six months from now the garden will be buried in two feet of white snow.  It will be dormant, sleeping and frozen.  I will look out my kitchen window and long for it.  I know that it will come back, and that will keep me going.

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