The Value of a Garden

The Value of a Garden July 28, 2015

I love my garden to a ridiculous degree.

The Garden. Cat Chapin-Bishop, 2015.
The Garden. Cat Chapin-Bishop, 2015.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it for practical reasons, too.  Home grown tomatoes are a unique joy, and never running out of cucumbers is nifty, too.  And I come from a line of gardeners on both sides: I have many happy childhood memories of standing barefoot in my dad’s garden, feeling the warmth of the composting grass clippings he used to keep down the weeds as I picked us the lettuce or zucchini for our supper, and my aunt managed to feed a family of five with the summer produce she froze and canned herself every year.

I do my share of freezing and canning, too–but I came clean with myself this year about my garden: my love for my garden is not much about saving money or even the difference between a fresh, garden tomato and one from a grocery store.  None of those sensible, practical reasons are really where I draw my bottom line.

I figured this out in part because I had an awful spring.  I didn’t manage to get the garden in for almost a month after our usual kick-off date.  All sorts of garden projects, from trying my hand for the first time at winter squash to growing potatoes in a container have been ruined or placed in jeopardy by my late start, and the money I spent on seedlings for plants I normally grow from seed feels like an accusation of vice.

Which, in a way, it is.  I do not garden to be frugal.  I garden for the sake of having a garden, and damn the cost. And this year, I bought starts rather than seeds the way an addict buys a drug.

I was apologizing for this to my husband when he interrupted me. “No–stop,” he said.  “It’s OK.  Because, really it’s not about the money. Not for me, anyway.  You grow this garden every year… and I get to have this connection to the sacred.  I don’t even have to get it together to make it happen; it’s just there.”

So maybe it’s not such a guilty pleasure; or at any rate, it’s a guilty pleasure shared.  And the truth is, there’s something amazing about eating food that grew on land you live on.

Don’t get me wrong: I try not to be spendthrift about it.  We’re not growing any $60 tomatoes at our house.

But if I grew my Romaine lettuce from someone else’s starts rather than from seed, and if not all the herbs I put into the ground this year are going to be part of our diet, still, there is something that is beyond a price tag, just about being out there, first thing in the morning with the grass still wet with dew, or late in the afternoon, picking some green beans for supper.  Maybe I don’t need to apologize for that.

I love this little patch of ground we live on.  And tending its soil and eating its produce feeds something in me, in us, beyond our bellies alone.

I remember, still, the first black raspberry I picked from the canes behind the kitchen.  That berry bush was so tiny then, and I don’t think it put forth more than half a dozen berries.  But that first summer, when we’d just bought the house, before we had the front door key or had built a single raised bed, the land was already feeding us.

Green Beans. Cat Chapin-Bishop, 2014.
Green Beans. Cat Chapin-Bishop, 2014.

Apples and raspberries, cherries and elderberries, lettuce and kale and chard and dill.  The cast of characters varies from year to year, and not all our harvests are good ones.  But when I push back the sweat from my eyes, and pull another half pint of jam from the canner, or, come winter, thaw another jar of green beans for our supper, I never forget to feel that joy, that delight.  Food from the ground we stand on: magic.

Will my winter squash ripen before the frost this year?  Will I lose another apple tree to rabbits, or to blight? Will the squash bugs wipe out our zucchinis again this year? There are so many small failures in growing a garden.

It’s good to remember the part that never fails: earth beneath my feet, wind on my face, scratches on my arms picking yet another quart of berries.

Touching the earth is coming home.

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