COLUMN: Don’t Mind the Mess – The joys of vicarious gardening


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I’m not sure what turned me off from gardening.

Maybe it was all those mercilessly hot summers I spent hoeing my dad’s eternally weedy sugar beets. I still can’t hold a hoe without babbling, “But I wanna stay home!”

(Interestingly enough, most of my family was out hoeing beets the day I was born. How’s that for prophetic?)

Maybe it was the futility of picking those bloated, disgusting bugs off of my mom’s potato plants that killed my green thumb. By the time I got to the end of the row, they’d already reproduced.

Whatever the reason, I can think of a thousand things I’d rather do with my summer than be a slave to a garden. I will plant a few flowers and shrubs, but they don’t require anything but my admiration.

“You’re really missing out,” a friend said to me recently. “There’s nothing like going out to the garden and picking something you actually grew yourself.”

I told her I’d find some way to deal with this tragic loss.

Like maybe relaxing with a book. Or going to the beach. I know. Tough therapy, but I’ll muck through it.

Over the years, I’ve watched her trudge begrudgingly out to this little plot of soil she calls Paradise, listening to her whine and complain about pests and mildew, too little or too much rain, an early frost, too many weeds, and the list goes on and on.

Somehow, I must have missed the glow of pride. Or maybe that was the hectic flush on her face after pulling weeds in the blazing sun for two hours.

She also cans everything that doesn’t move. At the end of the season, I make sure I don’t stand still for too long so I don’t end up in a Mason jar.

True gardeners, I’ve learned, are passionate about their produce.

Say what you want about their house or their kids, just don’t insult their tomatoes.

They’re also ridiculously generous.

In fact, heap on the praise. Tell them their veggies are the best you’ve ever tasted. Bemoan the fact that you just can’t seem to grow anything this good, no matter how hard you try. And before long, you’ll have people lining up at your door with enough cucumbers and melons and tomatoes to start your own market garden.

Most of the time, gardeners aren’t just in it for the harvest.

I think most of them actually love the stress and the bondage of gardening. It gives their summer a purpose. They can quantify their success by the number of sealed jars lining their pantry shelves and Ziploc bags in the freezer.

It also gives them an excuse to go outside. One girl told me it was where she goes to tan, since lying on a lounger, baking in the sun feels too weird and lazy. “My tans have to be accidental,” she says.

For some, gardening brings back fond memories. For others, gardening is an ancient link to forefathers who grew their own food and lived off the fat of the land.

Like Ruth in the Bible, I’m more of a gleaner. I choose to garden vicariously through my family and friends, happy to accept whatever “fat of their land” they don’t need.

I just wish I knew what to do with all that darn zucchini.

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