Sunday, May 25, 2008


We are planting a garden, my J and I. J has cleared out the back yard of the sumac that until this summer had claimed the yard as its own, and we have dedicated an entire third of the space to herbs and vegetables. We have a bed of strawberries and cantaloupe. We have two rows of corn, one of cucumber, beets, and chard, each. There are two rows of radishes ("French Breakfast" radishes, tres chic) and four of spinach and carrots, planted together a la francaise for the spinach to break up the soil so the carrots can reach deeper into the ground (c'est le plus chic). We have tomato plants -- two varieties, and several varieties of pepper -- hot and sweet, planted far apart, so as not to cross germinate.

The herb garden takes up a small, triangular bed by the door to the mud room. There, planted around an old tree stump, are thyme, chives, and rosemary. The bed is bordered on one side by purple allysum, and in the more acute angle of the bed I planted lavender, Spanish and French (une fragrance tres sensuel).

I have not gardened in years, since I lived in my married house on Pearl Street, where I had grapevine and moneywort. In my days as a gay divorcee, I lived in a penthouse flat where I grew nothing, though I did take a class on indoor composting, hoping to preserve the gardening spirit in a closet or under the kitchen sink. There was never any room to compost in my flat, and anyway when you are cultivating a single-girl lifestyle, there is hardly room for any type of horticulture in your life. Your refrigerator is full of water, supplements, and doggie bags containing the remains of meals that restaurants have passed off as single portions but you know could each give you three lunches, at least. In circumstances such as these, your herb garden is dried and in jars on the spice shelf, awaiting an occasion when you and the date du jour might stay in. There were a couple of times when I helped boyfriends du jour in their gardens, but there was nothing of me in those gardens. I was just a couple of hands skilled at extracting a weed's whole root.

This new garden is an adventure. It is a review and it is new material. I'm remembering how to compost -- that there are greens and browns and there is a ratio. I am remembering that planing is easier when the ground has been watered the night before and is still moist, but no longer mud. From J, I learned how to plant seeds in little mounds, and not straight in the soil.

Indeed, the best part of this whole garden thing is that J and I are doing it together. I would have waited to plant a garden until at least next year -- until we could solve some vexing landscaping issues that now burden the yard (the huge concrete slab is just the largest of the problems back there). But J is a leader of people, one reason being that his enthusiasm for a project is his most convincing argument to pursue it. He is ambitious and confident in his ambition, so much so that everything he endeavors to do seems destined for success. For him, making a garden is a risk that will pay off. I am timid, and think of it as an experiment -- "Do we really have the fortitude to plant it, grow it, harvest it, preserve it, and eat it?" I am timid, therefore I reflect the light of J's confidence. The seeds will germinate, the plants will thrive, and their leaves and fruits will be delicious.

There is also something really ancient about making a garden -- something that connects us to our ancestors of a thousand generations past. Taking a rest from planting the chives, I looked up to see J on his knees, gently covering the seeds he'd just sewn with a light layer of dirt. I though to myself, "How many other couples have done this same thing we are doing?" I considered this question and concluded that garden-making feels so ancient (and I mean ancient, not primal, just old) because is one of the reasons couples are together in the first place. Garden-making is the first thing you need to do to survive, and it is easier to do it when you have help -- not help who you pay or who lend a hand occasionally -- but help that is dedicated to the same endeavors you are, and whose own survival matters not just to your survival, but also to your happiness.

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