My relationship with gardening didn’t start off on a great note – when I was in my early teens I decided to take over the vegetable garden that had lain unused for a few years in our backyard. I walked out to it and began weeding, yanking out the grasses that clung stubbornly to the hard dirt. Suddenly, I pulled an enormous chunk of grass out of the ground with surprising ease, followed immediately by an ominous, buzzing cloud of tiny dark shapes that flew toward me and began stinging me. After fleeing to the safety of my house and having my dad remove several wasp stingers, I decided to leave the garden bed alone.
A year later, right after things started to thaw in the spring (and there hadn’t been time for wasps to build a nest in the ground), I tried again. After clearing the soil and turning it over, I started with the basics – green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, some marigolds to keep insects away. It was an experiment, with no pressure to make sure everything grew perfectly, just curiosity to see what would happen and a feeling of satisfaction when we were able to eat anything I’d grown. I’d read the pages of my mom’s Sunset and Better Homes and Gardens magazines for inspiration both idealistic and realistic.
Throughout high school I’d dig up our vegetable garden every spring and plant a varying mixture of things based on what had worked well in the past and curiosity about new plants. The pumpkin pie we made from pumpkins I’d grown was the best I’d ever tasted and I loved gathering lettuce or green beans from the garden to eat fresh and raw, with the occasional foray into pickling or preserving. Living in the high-altitude desert of northern New Mexico, I got into the rhythm of watering the garden every day, typically in the evening to avoid evaporation and leaf damage from the incredibly strong midday sun. It was a great hobby, with a tasty and satisfying outcome and not too much commitment to strain my teenage attention span. I was only interested in things I could eat and my mom continued to be in charge of every other aspect of our house’s landscaping. I would provide labor, pruning the %$&*ing juniper bushes and mowing the lawn, but didn’t find non-veggie gardening super interesting.
College and my early 20s saw me living in a series of year-long rentals with a varying group of friends and roommates. Between living in apartments with no yards and not living in rented houses long enough to last an entire growing season, I didn’t have anything more than an occasional houseplant for more than a decade after leaving my childhood home. However, after moving to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school, I felt the urge to rediscover the peace and contentment that vegetable gardening offered. I looked up the local community garden program and put myself on the waiting list for a plot in one of the local P Patches (as they are called in Seattle). The estimated waiting time I was given was a hefty 2-3 years, and sure enough, after almost 2 years of living in the Emerald City, I was finally given a plot.
Sharing the plot with a friend, I took my first steps into gardening in a much wetter, more moderate environment and discovered things like slugs (awful and slimy) and fertilizer (helpful and smelly). Beyond that, I met the other gardeners whose plots were in the same P Patch and we worked on general upkeep together, sharing funny stories and tips. I continued to experience a mixture of successes and failures, with more zucchini than I knew what to do with and Brussels sprouts that never sprouted. Regardless of how well my garden grew, the daily routine of time spent in a quiet and sunny green space was a welcome antidote to the stresses of graduate school.
My partner and I eventually moved too far from the community plot for me to maintain it, but I found some pleasure in growing flowers, herbs, and some veggies on our apartment balcony. With the next move bringing us to a different state, I ended up leaving my collection of potted plants with a gardening-obsessed friend who would care for them as well or better than I could. Our apartment in Portland had a balcony, but I found that it was too shady to support most plants so I contented myself with gathering fruit and veggies from friends’ gardens and turning them into delicious jams, preserves, and pickles. At the time, my life was full with an exciting and demanding job, learning the basics of mountaineering, weekly trivia nights, and discovering the delights of a new city, so the absence of gardening didn’t bother me as it might have otherwise.
After a year in Portland, we took the plunge and purchased our own house. Leaving out the myriad stressful details of that process, one of the things that excited me the most about my own place was finally having a yard to transform into my own outdoor paradise, something that would look like the gardens I’d envied for years in the pages of gardening magazines. As often happens in life, things didn’t quite go as planned, with my partner getting a job overseas right around the time we closed on the house. Before he left, he hastily threw together a couple raised beds for me and we planted some blueberry bushes, a persimmon tree, and a few ornamental plants (Japanese maple and star jasmine being practically mandatory for all Pacific Northwest gardens). I had one summer of vegetable gardening before I began planning to leave everything behind and move temporarily to Germany. We rented out the house and I began making sketches of the overhaul I wanted to give the garden when I returned in a couple years.
After I moved to Germany, of course, a pandemic occurred and the general unpredictability of life made its presence known, such that 3+ years after my arrival in Germany, I now have a very lovely raised garden bed and no immediate plans to return to Portland and my mothballed landscaping project. I enjoy looking at the amazing gardens that my retiree neighbors tend with the utmost care and I’m working on becoming a more conscientious gardener who actually follows instructions regarding timing, spacing, fertilizing, etc. I still daydream about what I’m going to do with the space waiting for me back in Portland, but for now my itch is scratched when I go out in the morning and pick a few snap peas, relishing their sweet and crunchy goodness.