This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on September 12, 2004.
My desert tortoise, Speedy, slowly made her way across the backyard, headed for her
burrow, when I went out to check on my garden late on a summer afternoon. It had been a
hot day and I worried that the tomato plants I transplanted into plastic pots had dried
out. The big pots were gopher insurance. They sat above ground – safe from the vermin but susceptible to drying out in the sun.
Though gardeners delight in the work the garden requires of them, it is just that – work. On that summer afternoon I picked three tender zucchini and a perfect cucumber. I decided to prepare a zucchini frittata for breakfast tomorrow morning and eat the cucumber with some feta cheese tonight.
Since early spring I had concentrated on my vegetables and was richly rewarded. Walking back to the house I saw the sorry state my flowers were in. I had not dead-headed my carnations and they were way past their prime. Their shriveled brown blossoms hung low. The zinnias had not been dead-headed either. Had I paid attention, they would be at the height of their summer splendor. Then there were the weeds, springing up where water spread forth from the soaker hose, which had several tiny plastic heads gone awry – shooting little fountains of water to all the wrong places.
Extra hours at work, trips to see my sick mother and a lousy head cold kept me from my favorite place on earth for way too long. When I retire I will become a full-time gardener, but until then I must do the best I can on weekends and holidays.
When I neglect my garden, I neglect my soul. I deprive myself of the joyous solitude that gardening bestows on its practitioners. Most gardeners are introverts; gentle people who can discuss mulch with zeal and know every inch of their yard, be it container gardens in a desert home, or half an acre in a suburban neighborhood.
Every gardener knows the rhythm of his garden, the songs of the birds, the pests that ravage the roses. A gardener sees life at its most basic, from the pesky slugs that devour the Coleus, to the Ladybugs who feast on aphids, to the lizard who races up the block wall.
After a day of deadlines and cranky co-workers, traffic that enrages and demands of children and spouses, the garden beacons. Neglected or not, it waits patiently for attention, offering peace and harmony to those who don garden clogs and venture forth to the buzz and hum of nature.
Although it isn’t perfect, it makes sense. Although it has its pests, it has a place for
them. Although it isn’t tidy, it is serene.
One Sunday morning I got out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and headed straight for the garden with only my morning tea for sustenance. I cut the roses back and then headed for the flowers with pruning shears in hand. I dug out weeds that had long gone to seed and pulled up the spent spring flowers. After three hours I was satisfied, though not pleased.
I promised myself, once again, I would return the following weekend and not let weeks go by without tending the garden. My track record suggests that I may not keep my promise. The garden will wait, even though it will get shaggy and overgrown. The patient garden will wait for me to return and replenish my soul.
Kathleen Vallee Stein