I have never been a gardener. I was once an herb gardener, a few summers ago, proudly amassing three herbs – basil, mint, what was the other? – and then I birthed Bee and every single one of those green sprouts shriveled in that first bleary post-partum week. It seemed my capacity for keeping something alive was limited to one, and a newborn baby seemed an adequate top for the hierarchy.
Yet I am older (hopefully wiser?) now, and it was early May, and Bee’s junior gardening kit had just arrived from Seedling, and we had a free Saturday on the calendar, and it just seemed to me that these were the best gardening parameters a gal would ever receive. And so, our gardening efforts began.
Ken, in his typical Renaissance style, built a planter box to line the edge of our deck as Bee and I drove to the local nursery in search of vegetables we could not easily kill. Tomatoes and peppers, it was decided, but we’d need marigolds to keep the rabbits out. And should we try for herbs again? Yes, Bee had said. We’re grown-ups now, Mom.
And so, with plants in our hands, with sunscreen on our nose, we became gardeners.
Ken shoveled dirt and Bee searched for ants and I pinched myself, quite a lot, because on this breezy afternoon in May, there was peppermint in the air, there was sweat on our foreheads, there was life scattered all around us. Legged spiders. Beating hearts. Growing herbs.
Did you know it can take sixty days for a tomato plant to bear fruit? You water and wait, water and think, water and look, water and search, water and wait. And if you’re me, you water and question. Is it getting enough sun? Am I watering too much? The leaves are looking yellow. Will this work? Will it survive? Will I kill it?
It seems to me, then, gardening is less an exercise in fruit and more an exercise in faith.
Last week, Bee hurt my feelings. She is a boisterous, outspoken toddler, and I am a sensitive, somewhat immature adult, and her words dove deep into my soul and discovered an insecurity that had already been growing, that I hadn’t yet found, that I hadn’t yet fully realized, and she plucked it and pulled it out and waved it like a banner.
There was no meaning behind the words, it was a moment, a song, an I like Dad better, that’s all, and of course, yes, I’m inclined to agree. Dad is amazing, the better half, the foundation of this family, and on a good day, I am grateful for this. On a bad day, my jealous roots grow thick and I fear that Bee and I will never be close. That I will be an outsider, an observer, benched in my own family. That I will wake up and discover my own insecurity has wedged something deep between Bee and I, and that she will turn 23 and forget to call me on my birthday. Or worse, that she will remember to call me on my birthday, but it will be a mercy call, a burden, a “Give me a sec, I have to call my mom really fast.”
This is irrational, I know.
And so, gardening.
It is nearing week two of our gardening experiment, and I realize this: the leaves look yellow and limp on some days, and green and lush on others, and still, you water. You rise, you brew the coffee, you fold the socks, you offer what you know, and you tend to your garden with sun and water and you try your best to sprinkle in a few helpful nutrients: patience, kindness, gentleness. Rational thoughts might help, but one can never tell.
And some plants thrive, and some do not, and still, we water. We water when our feelings are hurt, when the sun is in our eyes, when we’re distracted or busy, when we’re frustrated, angry, jealous. We water. We tend. We pray. We fold the socks.
This morning, the peppermint was looking sad. Its shoulders were slouched, and it looked forlorn, and I wondered if perhaps I’d done something wrong. Too much water? Too little sun? I started to Google.
And then, this:
Herbs are like people. Good days and bad days. Trust the process. Water + sun.