The Reluctant Gardener

What beautiful gardens you have!


They aren’t my gardens. They were built by my mom, her mom, my dad’s grandmother, my uncle Jimmy, my friend Gail and a man I always called Mr. Fowler.  I don’t know his first name.  Oh and that lavender in there is from the house next door.  They’re the ones who cultivated the young plants and designed it really; over time a little bit here and there really adds up. Plus, the river rocks my dad threw in from Rock Island, where he was born, can make a striking display.

grnadma's garden real flower bed

 These gardens have seasonal moods, too.  The flower blossoms are pink, lavender and delicate in the spring, cheery white, and yellow and orange in the summertime and rich red and purple in the fall.  And there are apples!  More apples than the whole neighborhood can eat, and that’s including the deer herd that stops over to eat every night.  There is only one rule.  Don’t plant anything that won’t come back next year, by itself. Passersby are right. It is beautiful, but it is beautiful and nowhere near mine.  I only work here.

I am, if I were to be kind, a reluctant gardener. You know those women who can wander gently through rich soil for hours, and meditate on the beauty of nature?  They snip here, pull an errant leaf there. You know who I’m talking about…They always have a basket resting over one arm and a delighted look in their eye.  That’s not me.  I jump into my rain boots with a hole in the toe, put a giant hat on my head, and wrestle a garden.  I try to force it to bloom.  Because I think of it as the least I can do for all of the people I know who are able to wander through rich soil and meditate.  It’s my job to keep them happy and peaceful. Or something.

It’s not just the pressure of nurturing life that gets to me; it’s also the responsibility of potentially killing things – beautiful things that ought to make life better, not worse.  And, I’m the only thing close to a gardener in the house, unless you count Gregory’s “sauce garden”. Two tomato plants, with some onions, green peppers and basil growing in a container on our deck.  I don’t.  Beyond the sauce, another acre of land cowers out there. Waiting for me, the grim reaper, to arrive and do what I must do.  And I’m sure that acre is really hoping that I don’t make it die.

See those deer.  That's the second shift.

See those deer? That’s the second shift.

So, last summer I saw a bunch of men – city workers I guessed – chopping down some trees in a yard nearby and feeding the branches into a wood chipper.

I saw mulch.  Free Mulch.  Gardens love mulch!

“Excuse me!” I yelled.

No reaction from the city guys.

“Sir!  May I have some of these wood chips?”


“HEY!”  I started waving my arms frantically then, and stood on my tiptoes, to help them hear me better.  The chippers stopped chipping, and they all turned to look at me, expectantly. So I told them I could use those chips, and seeing as how they were just going to take them to the city’s self serve (where I was going to drive my car at least ten times to retrieve an equivalent amount of chips) they could just dump them in my driveway.  I left them with my address.

Seemed like a great idea – Except that they were downing many trees that day.  And the pile of mulch they left in the middle of my driveway took the rest of the summer to distribute around the flower beds at my house.  And the neighbor’s house.  And one those playmate kids mom’s house.    Every night after supper, I gardened.  Reluctantly. It was hot or cold or raining every day, seems like.  When the weather was beyond reproach, I could still think of at least eleven things I’d rather be doing with a summer night than gardening.

I would love to say that the garden rewarded me with the richest blossoms ever, but they were about the same as usual.  Plus, the mulch moved a tribe of box elder bugs up to my yard, which took gallons of soap to drive away.

Did you know that soap suds repel bugs?

Me neither.  Not before I had these gardens.

And now that this summer is officially done, there are weeds poking up through the gardens again, and the deer are chilling by the hammock like I pay them.  But the asters are out, and the apples are getting riper by the minute.  I kind of hate it, and I kind of love it, too.

Time to pack it in.

Let me go get at those trees.

Thanks, amen.

About thanks amen

Michelle is an artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose professional experience spans working as an educator, nonprofit executive, and consultant. She has a fear of clowns and pecans, and works every day to listen at least twice as much as she talks.
This entry was posted in Family life, gardening, home gardens and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Reluctant Gardener

  1. Ernestine Griffin says:

    I absolutely enjoyed this article. It is so refreshing to see how you make something so simple into the greatest experience ever. Keep up the great work, you are definitely an outstanding artist. I enjoy everything you write.

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