I did not grow up in a garden.
I was raised in the suburbs and largely fed from grocery store shelves. Though my father hailed from a nearby dairy farm and his parents still lived on the family land, I have next to no childhood memories of helping anyone dig or plant or harvest.
It’s my husband who brought the green thumb to our family. Our first summer with a yard found us setting bush beans by the chainlink fence and tomato plants beside the screened-in porch — despite the avalanche of home-improvement projects we’d taken on and that fact that neither of us even owned a shovel or a rake.
We read books like Square Foot Gardening and Carrots Love Tomatoes. We studied planting guides and soaked up what we could from the Internet. We attended a workshop or two. But mostly, my husband shared what he’d learned from his years of trial and error. And the garden itself taught me the rest.
I learned how to search for healthy plants at the store, how to poke tiny seeds into warm-enough earth, how to pick fragile berries and when to grab fast-growing squash and green beans and okra. I learned how to freeze strawberries and peppers too plentiful to eat. I discovered how to cook the dozens of eggplants that arrived one year and how to pickle colanders full of cucumbers that are so plentiful some seasons.
But mostly what I learned was how much I loved being in the garden.
I loved the spring when the sun thawed me after a dark and chilling winter. I loved the sense of satisfaction from clearing a bed of weeds. I loved the feeling of purpose I got from working my way through a thicket of garlic, slaying each scape to let the bulb of the plant grow big and tasty.
I loved how all my worries would drop away as I focused on finding every last raspberry in the patch. I loved knowing that spinach looked like two tiny blades of grass as a seedling, before its true leaves emerged and unfolded.
Yes, there were days — many days — when I felt frustrated that the strawberries had molded or the birds had helped themselves to all the blueberries. And days when I was grouchy about picking green beans in the rain because they had to get picked and it would not stop raining. I’ve waged war with ants, squash bugs, tomato hornworms, cabbage white moths and stink bugs. I’ve cursed the garden as I diced a mountain of tomatoes before leaving for vacation and I’ve washed lettuce leaves till my skin was wrinkly and raw.
But even all that couldn’t curb my affinity for the miracle that is watching a pinhead-sized seed become a tall-as-my-shoulder dill plant.
In the garden, I am always discovering. I leave my life of laundry and kid bickering to imagine how it feels to be a caterpillar spinning in its sac or a leaf stretching for the sun.
It’s that door, the one that opens up a world many never see — a universe of roots and worms and pollen and flowers, of puzzles that fit neatly together, that I most want to show to everyone I can.
So in these last days of winter, let me plant this seed in your mind: You, too, might love to garden. Even if you don’t know how. Even if you’ve tried and failed before. Even if your yard is tiny or shady or rocky. Even if you, like me, did not grow up in one.
I can’t promise you’ll love it. You might think it’s too much work or too time-consuming or too hot. But then again, you might not. You might welcome the change of pace, the fresh air, the tasty food, your new knowledge of the web of life that stretches just outside your door.
You’ll never know unless you try.