You can find me in the garden

2009 was the year that I broke down.

Back to back pregnancies and losses had defeated me.  Fatigue from caring for a new infant had weakened me further. But I suspect that it was something specific that finally did me in. Initiation into the sometimes tragic nature of life is a one-way street. The terrible endings no longer belong to “other people”. And now you know, KNOW, that the 1 person in X,000 could actually be you.

Because it has.

My demon was anxiety, the overachieving cousin of the fear and worry that are such an integral part of parenthood. So ill-prepared was I to confront the adversity of mental illness that I failed to even recognize it until I had finally begun to emerge from it’s grip. But I haven’t forgotten the way that fears, both everyday and oversize, seize control of your body, forcing it into a sustained, exhausting, fight for survival against an enemy that never shows. Or the absurd way that your mind fails to regain control, even during those times when it can see the risk for what it truly is. I very nearly became a shut-in, in my illogical attempt to insulate myself and baby g from the dangers surrounding us.

But something changed one rainy day while g was taking one of his rare, long naps.  I remember staring out the window of our new apartment and noticing a small tangle of bermuda grass at the edge of our driveway.  It occurred to me then that I could dig it out. I thought about planting some herbs to the south and lettuce to the north.

That moment was a revelation.  At the time, my modest gardening aspirations were overshadowed by the victory represented in my intention to actually DO SOMETHING.  And several months later, after I did sprinkle those lettuce seeds onto a newly prepared patch of soil, I couldn’t bring myself to actually harvest them because I saw something in that dense mat of green and red that I had nearly lost sight of: hope.

As g began to assemble steps and sentences, I accumulated strawberries and salvia.  Eventually I got a plot in the community garden just around the corner. And I began to heal. Gardening has a way of restoring a healthy relationship to power.  It is, almost by necessity, a labor of mutual respect. You work to impose your will upon a space, provide me with peppers, and succeed only by allowing the space to impose it’s will on you, it isn’t warm enough here but I can give you kale.

Gardening can also teach you to appreciate dangers that are real.  There is no tiger at the gate after all, but global warming and drought are here.  Even better, gardening gives you something concrete to DO about them.  Though the actions may be small, you can decrease your waste stream and add carbon back to your soil.  You can provide food for pollinators and habitat for salamanders. Anxiety about the health consequences of high-fructose, partially hydrogenated glyphosate* disappears when eating from an organically-grown garden.

A little less than 2 years ago, as g was bravely conquering pre-school and Mr D was tugging at my pant legs, I convinced my then neighbors to park on the street and began to fill our parking spaces with pots and seedlings. Over time, what started as a patch of mixed lettuces has become a garden to me and our little apartment has become a lego and laughter-filled home.

I find myself returning over and over to a vision of these past 6 years as a time of rebuilding. Although neither my life nor any of my little gardens is anything exceptional, I am wholly convinced that we are all headed in the right direction.

patiobeforedriveway2015    *Glyphosate is the herbicide Round-up that is sprayed heavily on GMO corn and soybeans that make up a large share of the calories we in the US obtain from processed food.

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8 thoughts on “You can find me in the garden

  1. So, I…. sobbed and sobbed reading this. It was like reading my own life, my own experiences and what brought me out of them. Being outside healed me. Pushing my fingers into the dirt healed me. Slowly walking the length of my garden each evening and drinking them all in, heals me.

    Your garden is lovely. Simply perfect. Is that a lemon tree I see? Extraordinary. A garden tells you so much about the person who tends it. Yours is such a wonderful quilt of whimsy, love, caring, and a deep commitment to beauty and nourishment.

  2. It means the world to know that someone understands how this little space can represent so much more to me than a collection of plants and pots. I’m grateful to this internet for bringing together kindred spirits from so many miles away.

    Thanks xo

  3. I too wept and wept. I am so sorry you had to live through that. And so very glad that it seems to be a “through” and not an endless, ongoing “with”. Thank you, lettuce, for helping my friend. And like S, I so admire the beauty of your garden and the fact that you brought about this little change in your world. When I walk past a space like that, it brings me joy. I can imagine walking past. I can smell it! Lemons! (Was just googling “can I grow a lemon tree in my office?” last week…) All those bee friendly blooms blooming!

    My relationship with my plant world is both a painful and a joyous one. All the striving and the failure and the compromise. Like you say: I’m pretty powerless. I wish I could be more accepting. I bet it would help me in other areas of my life as well… I want the kind of garden that you can only have with an elderly gardener who’s worked on your estate since he was a boy. And english soil. Not pure red clay. I need to understand that I can’t have it. I want to make changes instead of feeling guilty about the harm I’m doing. (We have a lawn. We do bad things. Well, we pay other people to do bad things. We could just as easily pay them to do less bad things.) Right now I’m feeling sad about it all.

    But there is happiness as well. I take a set of photos of the yard every year to record how it’s changed, and there are often babies in the photos, doing their things, being a family, trying our best.

    1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to acknowledge that we would be screwed if I we had to rely on my skills to eat. SO many failures. But I am in love with the learning and tinkering, a gentle substitute for the scientific work I once performed.

      I know and love those photos you speak of. And you, my friend, have a real job and several (and counting) babies to care for. What I’ve seen of your garden is the kind of perfection that I sense that you bring to everything that you do and I imagine that if you had the time and desire every inch of that place would be amazing. If you had that lawn and lived in Cal., I would come over myself and replace it. But I already know that you live someplace england-like (in terms of rain, not soil, bummer), so you can enjoy it for as long as you choose.

      1. Thank you! It’s true that water is not an issue here (would love to build a pipeline from my basement to CA), and without a lawn we couldn’t play bocce! I wanted to say that your post gave me the push I needed to switch to natural lawn care. I have been feeling shitty about letting our company use fertilizers and pesticides, and that’s a thing I can change, so…NO MORE. Thank you!

  4. Wow this was gorgeous. My “garden” is a bunch of containers on our concrete patio, but I didn’t even realize until I read this post how the very act of planning & planting for the first time in years did indicate a kind of hope that I thought was gone forever. And though most of our crop has gone to the squirrels this summer (need a plan for that…), I still spend way longer than needed inspecting every pot and thrilling over every new shoot every morning and evening.
    We’ve had torrential rains here, really wish we could funnel it westward or southward, as our rivers overflow and it seeps into the basement.

    1. Hi Ana! Cheers for container gardens. I dream of having a real yard – perhaps someday- but it is amazing how little it takes to create a refuge. Our squirrels don’t seem to eat much but they do a lot of damage in the fall. A friend has been trapping hers (not sure I have the cojones for that).

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