This ran in the September 24, 2009 issue of the Alameda Sun. They edited it a bit, but here’s the original.
You’ve Got Your Hands Full
When my three girls were very young and we were still married and living in northern San Diego County, we lived in a house in a development that sat on a ridge above a golf course. Our street was actually a very long, winding circle that weaved through the entire neighborhood.
On nice days—and let’s face it, most days are nice in San Diego—I would strap the girls into the long triplet stroller, baby in the front, twins each in the second and third seats, and push them the 2.5 miles around the neighborhood. As in most housing developments, the homes were nearly identical. I think there were two models—a tudor style and a non-tudor style. These homes were built in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s and the primary differences were the yards. Each yard had a different shape and landscape.
On these excursions, the girls and I would pass one house on the circle with a particularly gorgeous front garden. The gardener was a master. Throughout the year, she displayed a gorgeous array of seasonal plants. As we passed, I pointed out colors and flowers to my captive audience.
One day, as the gardener was gardening, I shouted out a greeting and my envy. How I always wanted to garden and how beautiful it looked. How my grandfather grew up on a farm and how he, too, had a garden that he timed to have something blooming from the dwindling snows of early spring to the first frost of fall.
“Well, thanks, but this takes a lot of time,” she shouted back. “You’ll have time to garden someday, but you have your hands full right now with those little flowers.” The girls waved and the baby woke up and made some noise, letting us know that it was time to go. Now.
“You have your hands full” has been mentioned to me more than a few times since I’ve had my daughters, but the association between raising kids and gardening really hit home this summer.
We planted crops this year in big container buckets in the small backyard of our house here in Alameda. We started from both seed (beans, carrots, cucumber, herbs, zucchini) and plants (tomato). We used a mix of regular soil and Miracle-Gro. We bought a new hose to water, and, damn the drought, we watered every day. It was thrilling to see the young green sprouts; the girls fought over who was going to water each day.
It took some time, but the original gusto and excitement of our urban victory garden lost some of its luster as the summer wore on. Maybe it was when we left for our east coast trip. Maybe it was the cold summer weather when we returned. I do think the neighborhood critters had something to do with it. As soon as any of the fruit, especially the tomatoes, were just ripe enough to pick, they would disappear. One morning, I found a large, juicy, half-eaten tomato on the ground. Now, there’s school and activities that steer us away from the containers in the yard.
What really got in the way, I believe, was the lack of knowledge about how does a garden grow. Why are the leaves brown and shriveled on one plant, but not the other? How do you know when to pick carrots if you can’t see them ripen? Why does only one cucumber grow at a time? My kids have completely lost interest and I am just frustrated.
It takes time to grow and nurture a garden, as it does to raise children. With kids, there are so many unknowns, but as soon as they can talk, they help you out with the process. Tomatoes don’t talk, yet, and there are thousands of variables in the success of their growth. Yes, there are resources, but I realized that the master gardener of our neighborhood in San Diego was right, it takes a lot of time to work a garden. You need to fully invest in the success of each plant for a garden to truly thrive.
The same can be said for kids. My investment right now, as it was 12 years ago in San Diego, is still in the growth of my family. Even though they’re older, they still need me and I am still excited by the sprouting of their minds and lives.
I will have time for a garden some day. Maybe by then, the tomatoes can help me along.