Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Garden

Look at this humongo zucchini! Eighteen inches of pure summer squash, baby. Size is everything, right?
Just kidding. Did you know that botanically, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower? That’s a bit gross and clinical-sounding …and I digress. 

Now that I’ve got zucchinizilla and more to harvest from my plot in the organic community garden in which I’ve been a member for three years, I’m bowing out and no more will have summer harvest to proudly bring home. Due to the increasing scheduling complications of having three kids in three different schools this year and moving toward reentry into the workforce, I need to cut extra outside activities and memberships to create more margin in my life.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this garden plot. I sat on the waiting list for at least a year before the plot became available and I couldn’t wait to get started. Vegetable gardening efforts in my back yard had been fruitless (pardon the pun) and discouraging due to the wildlife that consider any of my gardening experiments to be their personal tasting privilege. The yard descends in a 1/3 acre woodland area to a small creek, home to wildlife that eventually find their way up to my deck to partake of the goodies growing in my containers. Consisting of mainly squirrels and chipmunks (and I’m sure the occasional nocturnal rat or possum), veggies are not safe even with chicken wire around them. Somehow the varmints found their way in. Or the soil wasn’t right, or something... because my harvest at each season’s end was pathetic. Yet the small deck area on the south side was the only place that receives full sun for growing edible plants.

But in this wonderful community garden of 32 plots surrounded by a split rail wood fence in the middle of a field on a nature preserve – yes here in a city of nearly 6 million -- there was ample sunlight, open space, and excellent soil. Plus I had the benefit of fellow gardeners whose experience and wisdom I could learn from and with whom I could commune. I got great ideas from just walking around and observing their garden layouts and plant choices. Often, I’d go to water and check on the progress of my plants and someone would be there tending their plants. We’d confer on how to treat certain problems or discuss our current crop. In the back there was a special garden called the “Garden for the Hungry” dedicated to serving a downtown homeless shelter so the participants could have some healthy fresh produce in their minimal diets. I wrote an piece about it in a local newspaper (see "My Articles").

I’ve enjoyed my time in this group working out in the open air with wild birds flying around, a nearby gazebo, an apiary site, home to several hives of honeybees, and the rest of the preserve behind. Gardening so doesn’t fit our contemporary cultural penchant for utilizing technology, speed-based services (like FedEx, ATMs, and instant messaging) and of course -- multitasking. Such business and lifestyle methods of being and working disconnect with the earth and don’t usually require a more unhurried, measured mindfulness, yet they produce instant results that only perpetuate our need for instant gratification.

Gardening slows everything down. It requires a methodical approach and lots of patience. Sometimes, the work can feel very plodding and tedious, but there’s nothing as wonderful as arriving at one’s garden to see colors and shapes emerging out of the ground like a baby pushing out a budding belly -- expectant life growing and ripening each day. It's almost miraculous. And of course, biting into that succulent cherry tomato or tasting the rich flavors of that grilled summer squash -- knowing exactly from whence it came -- brings a simple, organic satisfaction that can’t compare with drawing up the Quicken report or sending the email proposal.

Life choices are a series of trade offs. A sad goodbye to the garden but hello to a little more time.


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