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I’ve concluded that I’m no gardener

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By Janny Wilcke

Several events over the past week have convinced me that, in spite of a lifetime of self-delusion, I am no gardener. I love gardens. I grew up surrounded by beautiful flower gardens that my father tended fastidiously. And in the summers we enjoyed the produce grown in a large vegetable garden in one of our fields. I can still remember the first juicy bites of warm tomatoes picked right off the vine. My love for eating vegetables is surely a consequence of all the fresh sweet corn, beets, beans, swiss chard, cucumbers, peas and tomatoes that my parents grew on our New York State farm. 

Regrettably, as much as I adore flowers and vegetables and watching them grow, I just plain do not like the heavy work involved in readying the soil to plant and, frankly, I hate weeding. This is difficult for me to confess, given the fact that I have always seen myself as a pioneer, back-to-nature, do-it-yourself person. But let me tell you about this week’s adventures in my rock/tomato garden. Yes, I gave up on flowers again this year and planted tomatoes, figuring I could tend them pretty easily.

Thursday I decided to straighten some of the rocks on the perimeter of my garden.  I turned over a rock and there was a huge, active wasps’ nest on the underside. Because I had recently been stung by a wasp while moving our large Rumpke garbage container, I panicked and ‘dropped and rolled’ as I was taught to do in case of a fire. But I recovered, the wasps calmed down, and I turned over another rock. I am not kidding – there was a small snake (about the size of the one that killed Cleopatra) under this next rock. If there is one species I positively hate, it is snakes. Spiders aren’t great but they don’t panic me the way that snakes do. And the assurance that my husband gave me later, “It was likely just a harmless garter snake,” seemed a contradiction in terms. To me, even a “harmless” snake has the power to scare me to death, if that’s possible.

Getting back to the garden; I turned over a third rock to find another wasps’ nest, again covered with wasps, so again I ‘dropped and rolled.’  I decided to try once more, although God only knows why. Flip went the rock, and flip went my heart as there was another snake under that one! I had had enough. I went to The Dollar Store and bought the best wasp spray they had. I figured at least my husband could eliminate the wasps for me when he got home from work. Which he did, but I had the strong feeling that he also sprayed my tomatoes. I am not a fan of pesticides, and so there is no way that I’m going to eat tomatoes that may have been covered in spray when the directions on the can say explicitly not to contaminate food. So, there you have it – after a whole summer’s labor, we ended up with very few edible tomatoes to show for it.

My son-in-law’s mother gave me one of those hanging planters in which you can plant tomatoes upside down. I absolutely love it. No soil preparation and no weeding. I hung it on my porch and every day I check the tomatoes and am happy to see them grow and ripen. I grew lots of marigolds from seeds in pots and I enjoy them, and I have some very nice houseplants. I know how to propagate African Violets, and over the years I’ve had good success growing them. But the pleasures of turning over hard soil and weeding for hours on end in the hot sun have eluded me.

So this week I finally have decided that I’m giving up on my rock/tomato garden. I have had it for about ten years and have come to grips with reality. I am never going to take care of it the way that I should. So what now? I could allow it to revert to lawn so I could mow it, but that would mean moving the rocks. And who knows what lies beneath them? More than likely it will deteriorate into a weed garden, an eyesore set off from the rest of the lawn by a wall of rocks – a permanent reminder of my failure to be the “earth mother” of my dreams. It will keep me humble.