I come from a long line of women who knew how to grow things. My mom grew tomatoes on a tiny cement patio wedged between rowhomes in downtown Saint Louis. My grandma grew a raspberry patch that nears legend in the imaginations of her grandchildren. And in fields baking under the heat of a relentless desert sun, my great-grandmother cultivated a fifteen-acre watermelon patch.

Time to take my place. 

Where I live, the morning light is pink. Pink and as present as if you’re walking out into its thickness. Like swimming. The birds and goats wake up before I do, and with their morning chatter I begin the morning’s gardening.

I start with the raspberries. The branches bow heavy with fruit. They aren’t supposed to bear their first year, but these starts didn’t seem to know that. I lift their bows and coax the sunripe berries from their hulls. 

I move to the vegetable rows. The butternut squash has sent its tendrils to every corner of the garden. One arm snuggles the row of celery, another made its way through the chainlink fence early in the season and has been nurturing a row of fruit just outside the garden’s perimeter.

The tomatoes are stalwart and steady. It was late in the season when I put them in cages but they patiently bent and bowed, submitting kindly to their new bounds. Each time I go to their laden stalks, no matter how recently I harvested, there are newly ripened bulbs ready for the picking. 

The basil plants are constantly going to seed. I pinch off the ends of the stalks, lest that overeager plant thinks it is time to go to seed. My thumbnail is green from pinching, the air electrified by the basil’s fresh fragrance. 

It is my first year planting a garden. And you can read the eagerness in my list of plantings this year. It’s like I couldn’t decide which plants I wanted most, so just got them all. Which is exactly what happened.

  • Basil
  • Bergamot Mint
  • Thyme
  • Lemon thyme
  • Garlic
  • Tomatillo
  • Peppers (purple, red, orange)
  • Jalapeno
  • Golden Cherry Tomatoes
  • Large grape tomatoes
  • Big red tomatoes
  • Cucumbers (two kinds)
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Eggplant
  • Butternut squash
  • Celery
  • Chives
  • Sugar snap peas

Now, after a summer of watching them all grow, watching how they respond to light and respond to each other, I have a better sense what to plant next year, and where.

When I go to the garden, I learn things about myself, about how the world works, about how light works.

For example, early this spring, I pruned the deadwood out of my Rose of Sharon bush. The branches had become a bit of a tangled mess in places, and my tree guy recommended cutting out all the dead branches to let more light in. I thought about how we care for our minds and our hearts, and what deadwood I could cut out of my own to make more room for light.

Here are some observations that have surfaced from my time in the garden:

Planting Peas:
From a tiny, shriveled up pea, this big, winding, beautifully fragrant plant grows. On its own. Without being forced to. Within the seed is everything it needs to become a full, blossoming, fruiting plant. It is all inside the seed. The seed knows how to do things, how to become the thing it is built to become. 

Weeds:
Weeds don’t need much to live. They can grow out of a crack in the middle of solid concrete. They can grow under rocks and around plants and all sorts of over and under. When they’re small, they’re easy to pull out. Let them go, and they sometimes take such tenacious hold on things, it’s impossible to pull them out with your hands, and you have to bring in the tools.

Flowers April through August:
Everything has a season, a time when it’s in blossom. My lilacs are first, followed by the irises, then the peonies just in time for my birthday. There’s nothing you can do to rush this. You have to let things bloom in their time, and enjoy them while they last. If you’re deliberate about what you plant in your garden, though, you can have blooms all season long, can be delighted all season long. 

The Late-blooming Underdog Eggplant:

I've been waiting all season for the eggplants to show proof of life. The plants haven't shot out leaves and branches like the squash, nor has there been any sign of harvest like my heavy laden branches of my tomato plants. Until last week, that is, when these nearly bare plants suddenly had 14 tiny fruits each. And I have four of them. (Please send any and all eggplant recipes my direction, as it's likely all I'll be eating for the next couple of months!) Different plants produce at different speeds. Some make lots of fruit, and some eek out just one little harvest (like my garlic plant), but oh how intricate the flavor of that one bulb.

I love mornings in my garden. I love touching the plants. I love holding their leaves in my hands, observing how each plant is different, watching for the buds of tiny squash and eggplants to appear.

Next year I’ll plant honeysuckle. If I’m feeling gutsy, I might try an apricot tree. Maybe I’ll even plant a watermelon or two, for my great-grandmother.

P.S. We used to carry a berry washer in our store. Every one of our employees owned one, and it was one of our favorite products. Then the vendor stopped making it. We were heartbroken. But two weeks ago we came across another berry washer that (dare I say it?) we might love even more! It is perfect for berrypicking, with a little handle you can loop your thumb through or tie onto a belt. The bottom is flat so you can balance it on the ground or in the sink. This will be my new go-to gift for the gardeners in my life. You can shop it here.

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