I’ve always loved my garden. I love the way I can plant a tiny seed or a miniature seedling and with just a little work, it can grow into a plant that towers above my children’s heads. When the kids were really little, Shawn spent a series of weekend days digging out and building vegetable beds for me. It was a labor of love, and involved a lot of back-breaking work. I remember when he finished them and sent me a photo. There wasn’t any text with the photo, but I felt a rush of love for him when I got it. He didn’t need to write anything else, because that photo was a love note in itself. He knew I loved gardening, and he made a permanent place for me to do it.
I’ve always been an extrovert, but the garden remains my one spot where I love to sit in silence with my hands in the dirt. I love the taste of fresh peas in the spring and the way that you can smell the basil if you get within five feet of it. I love fall kale and beets and I love that the growing season is long in DC. More than anything, I love backyard tomatoes. Every year, I plant four or five plants, and I usually end up with so many tomatoes that I give them away to everyone.
This spring, I looked at the dirt in my garden and figured it would stay that way forever. I just didn’t care.
But my friend Elissa cared. She’s a fellow gardener, and she texted me to say that she wanted to come over and plant vegetables for me. I told her that would be great, and a few weeks later the entire garden was planted with everything I usually grow, and a few other additions she thought I might like. I barely remembered to water it, but we got so much rain this year that it didn’t matter.
Somehow, the garden grew.
I got some good veggies out of it in the late spring, but by mid-summer I was ignoring it completely. As I’ve written about a number of times, I was too overwhelmed with the demands of single parenting to care about much else. I remember at one point in August, I sat at my window and watched a family of squirrels climb up the tomato cages to reach the ripening fruit at the top. I didn’t even try and scare them away.
All of this meant that instead of eating raw tomatoes as my main course for dinner all summer, I watched them fall rotten from the vine. I didn’t get even one good tomato. On top of this, I let weeds overrun the rest of the garden.
Last weekend, I finally went out and tried to clean out the garden and see if anything could be salvaged. I got a small bunch of chives and one pepper, but other than that, everything was pretty dead. Even the mint had died – that’s something I haven’t been able to do even when I’ve tried in the past. I decided I needed to pull out as much as I could, and just hope that some of the remaining plants would produce something that was at least partially edible.
The beds were so bad I had to pull my massive trash can into my yard so I could throw 5-foot-tall weeds into it. It looked like the damn Secret Garden, and I spent at least an hour yanking things out as I moved from bed to bed.
On the last bed, I pulled back a tangled mess of plants and weeds and I discovered that the Swiss chard was still doing really well. I hadn’t even remembered it was there. Somehow, underneath all the brush, it had thrived. The leaves were intensely green and the stems were this bright pink color that didn’t look like something nature could really produce. Gardens can produce beautiful things, but those plants looked like they were straight out of a magazine.
I don’t really know how to cook Swiss chard. I never would have planted it on my own, but my friend put it in my garden. Then it sat there as I let the weeds grow all around it.
But it still grew. And under all of the weeds, it was still very much alive.
Just like me, I guess. Still very much alive.