Topic of the week: Gardens…do you garden? Any special garden come to mind? Any memories involving gardens? Any stories?
When it comes to growing gardens, I have what is called a “Black Thumb.” With one exception, I have never been able to keep a plant alive more than a few weeks. While I was in college, a roommate’s grandmother gave a cutting from a rubber plant and somehow I managed to get that thing to root. It grew into a lovely plant I named Fred. Fred and I stayed together for about five years, through college and the beginning of my teaching career. He moved with me from the dorm to various student apartments, through graduation and the move back to my parents’ house and then two different apartments. Then he died because I got married and he got jealous. After that it was all downhill for me and my relationship with plants. At our first house we tried to plant a garden. It was a vegetable garden, about six feet by eight feet. I think I got enough green beans for two meals and a tomato or two. The rabbits and insects got the rest. Nowadays we don’t even trust ourselves with the yard – we entrust our lawn care service to keep everything green.
Inside the house, plants don’t do any better. I think they’re allergic to me. Either that, or they don’t like the fact that I ignore them. I think I heard something about them needing water, or sunlight, or something like that. Fussy little things – demanding constant attention! I had enough work keeping my kids fed and clothed – that was never a burden, but plants – eh. I have better luck keeping a batch of Herman sourdough starter alive than a plant.
Now as far as visiting gardens, I’ve been to several, and I enjoy them. Grand Rapids boasts a fabulous botanical gardens about a half hour drive from my home. When I taught second grade, this was a yearly field trip because the gardens has a special section that is transformed into a butterfly sanctuary. Thousands of chrysalises are shipped in and placed in special displays where they continue to develop and children can see the butterflies emerge. Back in March I made the trip with my youngest grandkids.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling since retiring, and I’ve seen some lovely gardens in Europe, such as those at the Palace of Versailles. My tour group spent almost an entire afternoon there and I had a wonderful time roaming through them. I can’t even imagine the staff and the budget required to keep this place manicured the way it is. Each plant is part of a larger piece of art. But even though I appreciated the artistry there, it wasn’t a place I’d want to spend a lot of time in. It wasn’t comfortable.
We also went through the beautiful gardens at Monet’s home in Giverny. I think I enjoyed these gardens more – I appreciated the natural beauty of the gardens rather than the sculpted perfection at Versailles. I could understand why Monet loved it there and felt inspired to paint. In England, I remember visiting the home of Anne Hathaway, which is also surrounded by lovely wildflowers, and while on the Greek island of Paros we wandered through some smaller flower gardens.
During my last trip to Japan my aunt and uncle took my mother, daughter, son-in-law, and me on a tour of Kyoto and Nara, which are spiritual centers of the Buddhist and Shinto faiths. Each temple we visited had a beautiful peaceful garden. It’s amazing to see what can be done in such a tiny space. And I find it interesting that I was able to experience the same serenity in a tiny ten foot square area at a shrine as I did in the expansive gardens in Europe. Two of my uncles also have small but fabulous gardens filled with lush plants of all kinds. I guess it’s true that bigger is not always better.
Closer to home, I have friends and family who have huge vegetable gardens. We’re often the lucky recipients of their overabundance. Last year a neighbor brought four GIGANTIC zucchini squashes over and asked if I could use them. It was a fun challenge to use them up! We ate two and I made and froze several loaves of zucchini bread with the other two. Our eldest daughter has a huge vegetable garden and each fall she cans salsa and other tomato-based goodies. Since they do so well and are willing to share I figure my time is better spent elsewhere.
I truly appreciate the fact that some people are able and willing to grow flower and vegetable gardens. I’m not one of them. At the moment I have a single tomato plant in a pot next to my back door – if it survives the month I will consider myself fortunate. If I actually get a tomato from it I will be ecstatic. If I get more than one, maybe the curse of the black thumb will be broken and I’ll attempt to keep two plants alive next year – or maybe I’ll try a planter of lettuce.