In Pursuit of My Garden of Eden

When I was growing up, my mother had a huge vegetable garden.  With eight kids in our family, it was as much of a necessity as something that good Dutch families just did. 

Now a garden that size was more than my mother could manage on her own, so she recruited helpers.  In the spring, my Dad’s job was to get the garden tilled and go with my Mom to buy the seeds and plants.  Then we kids were called on to help with the planting and throughout the summer with weeding and eventually harvesting.  I can remember a fair bit of grumbling and complaining going on as we worked in the hot sun.  Those long rows of beans seemed to have no end in sight! 

My grandmother would often come and help too.  She lived alone, in town, so she seemed to enjoy the opportunity to be working outdoors.  She wasn’t a fast worker, but she was steady.  With her hoe in hand, she worked her way silently up and down those rows, her back bent at the same angle all morning until she was done.  It was quite the contrast to how I worked.  I would start out my job of weeding by bending over at the waist.  A little later I would be squatting down, then kneeling, and eventually sitting down on the job, wondering if I would die from heat stroke and checking how much further to go until the row was done or until it was lunch time.  My mother must have been exasperated at times.  I’m sure at the time I thought I would NEVER have a garden when I had my own place since gardening was not fun.  What’s funny is how one’s perspective changes when they grow even just a little older.  I had only been married a couple of years when I WANTED a garden of my own.

I don’t remember my mother fussing with her garden.  She planted the seeds and the plants grew.  And they grew big and produced bushels of vegetables.  Other than having to pick off potato bugs, she didn’t seem to struggle with insects and disease destroying her plants.  This has not been my story.  In every vegetable garden I’ve attempted, I wouldn’t call a single one an awesome success.  Between the droughts, the rabbits, the insects, the blights, and the rock-hard clay soil, growing vegetables has been a struggle.  A number of years ago, I surrendered and converted my vegetable garden into a perennial garden. 

But the longing (or maybe the stubbornness) to grow food kept rising within me.  I was ready to try again.  I convinced Bill that raised beds were the way to go.  So last summer we spent a small fortune on building six raised beds and purchased good triple mix soil.  Bill told me, “If you can’t grow vegetables in these beds, you may as well give up.”

Well, I planted those gardens three times last summer.  The entire yield was one meal of green beans.  It was my worst gardening story ever.  To say I was discouraged and bewildered is an understatement. This made no sense whatsoever.

Fast forward to this summer.

I am happy—no I am elated.  I check out my gardens two or three times a day.  Bill shakes his head and laughs at me.  I don’t care!  For the first time in many years I am able to grow vegetables!   We’ve been eating radishes and lettuce.  The snow peas are almost ready.   Soon there will be tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, and beans.

What made the difference?  It was simply a matter of sprinkling some granular fertilizer into the soil.  Who would have thought that purchased triple mix would be deficient in nitrogen?  That container of fertilizer has not only saved my garden, it has saved my sanity. 

If my mother could see my little gardens she would probably chuckle and say, “This isn’t gardening.  This is playing at gardening.”  I’d agree, but these little beds are enough to scratch my gardening itch.  And one of the best parts of these beds is that they have ledges so I can sit down as I work.  So you see, I haven’t changed much since when I was a kid working in my mother’s garden.