If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result—I must be certifiable.
I have never had the green thumb that is so pervasive in my family. Indeed, I have often been tempted to sell my ability to kill vegetation by simply walking across adjoining dirt. The problem was the farmers to whom I tried to sell the idea were concerned their crops might die as well as the weeds.
Yet, as spring finally uncoils and things turn green again, I’ve picked out a couple places where I’m going to try, yet again, to make something grow.
When I was a little kid, Mother decided to put my love of digging to good use, and Brother Mike and I were assigned a garden plot in the rich earth of our yard behind the big house on Divine Street. I recall growing a lot of zucchini squash, which is fine except for the fact that (a) I killed everything else and (b) as a little kid, I didn’t like squash. I wanted watermelons, like the big juicy Congo on the seed packet. I wanted glossy cucumbers. I wanted bushels of field peas. I wanted a truckload of cantaloupe.
What I got was zucchinis, which was a hard word for me to even spell, much less eat.
Years later, Mike grew a garden worthy of envy by any farmer on the wild half-lot behind Mom and Dad’s house. We lived on a block of retired millworkers and widows of retired millworkers, and everything drained into our back yard. Since virtually every person on the block came of age during the Depression, they had vegetable gardens.
All that fertilizer—and in several cases, seeds and germinating plants—flowed downhill to Mike’s garden. Combine that with his magic touch, and my brother earned even more enmity from the (Lord forgive me, but they were) biddies who met under the spreading trees to pick and peck over Mother’s boys, since he could grow anything better than they could.
Through the years, I’ve tried growing a garden. A half-hearted attempt in the front yard of our first home, in downtown Wilmington, was ruined by the sand and the winos. When we got smart and returned to the country, goats, angry cats, hungry deer and happy dogs trashed my attempts at growing things, although we could grow goats, cats and dogs fairly well.
My old friend Robert Williamson has gone on to his final reward, thus closing his vegetable stand forever. The home-grown produce created so effortlessly by most of my gardening friends is booked up for years. I realized a few weeks back that fresh vegetables would be somewhat scarcer than usual around our house this year if I didn’t do something about it. With Miss Rhonda still hunting a regular job, she has hinted around that she’d like to have a few rows of something (her parents can grow things, too). So once again, I’m going to metaphorically slam my head into a brick wall in hopes that the wall, not my skull, will break, and something green and edible will burst forth.
I have always had an admiration for those who can scratch the soil, put a seed in the ground, and help it produce something worthwhile. It’s a skill I have always lacked, despite my best efforts. I can hunt; I can fish; I can trap. I can raise chickens and other birds, although I must admit, eating their children is harder than gathering the eggs that will produce those progeny. I know how to gather edible stuff from the woods. I love finding forgotten old farmsteads, where orchards have long since gone to rack and ruin, blueberries have run amok, persimmons await the first frost of fall, and grapes grow unheralded. I don’t mind battling possums, bears, coons, wasps, and other scavengers for the produce of generations past. It’s a skill I’ve developed through the years, both due to my ever-growling belly and a few times when life was tougher and I was prouder than was necessary.
But gardening has always been a challenge for me.
Once again I’m going to give it a try. Sam the Pig wiped out my last attempt, even before much was in the ground, but I’ve devised what should be an effective fencing technique to dissuade his ever-questing snout. The water supply is solved this time as well, in case we should have another historic drought (that was what shriveled my efforts before they could begin back in 2008, but the whole forest was burning down and I didn’t have time to garden, anyway). Plus, we have fertilizer by the ton. I never believed that an average horse produces 15 pounds of byproduct a day until I began feeding three.
Although I am regularly accused of seeing everything through the eyes of my stomach, I can appreciate the other benefits of a garden. Not just the time outside, although I will jump at any excuse for that. Not that one has a legitimate excuse, even as a grownup, to play in the dirt.
I see a certain pride in good gardening, whether it’s in the folks who come by the office to have their pictures taken with a record-breaking gift from the ground, or in the older pictures that turn up with regularity. Mack Munn captured a number of such folks as he peddled insurance, sundries and portraits around the area. A buddy of mine has a photo much older than those showing a stern, turn-of-the-century matron in the middle of a house garden that is obviously lush, even in a fading image captured on albumin more than a hundred years ago.
By the time some of you read this, I hope to have a few things in the ground, barring more of the February like weather that refuses to leave. If I can successfully defeat Sam’s ever-questing nose, avoid the anger of cats and the opportunism of birds, and master a few dozen other insurmountable odds, maybe I will be able beat my perfect record of killing the hardiest varieties, and finally be able to grow something green.