Garden at house of DC widow Marjorie Brimley
New Perspectives

My Garden

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.


  • Tiffany McB

    What wonderful friends you have Marjorie. I hope you eventually reconnect with your gardening. The chard looks phenomenal, I wouldn’t have known what to do it, but have fallen in love with a few vegetarian cooking blogs that might be some help for finding some tasty recipes. This might inspire some ideas (I have no affiliation with the blog, just use recipes):
    Best wishes to you and your family.

    • Marjorie

      Love that – thanks! And yes, I think I will reconnect someday, though I’ve given up for this year….except for the chard!

  • Elissa

    The chard looks beautiful! So glad it survived. We like it sauteed with garlic and a little soy sauce 🙂 Sorry that the summer was so tough–both for you and the garden. I hope you know I am always happy to help! I can also regale you with stories of how this summer the squirrels ate all of our corn just before it was ripe–still not sure how they are carrying ears of corn over the deer fencing. xoxo

    • Marjorie

      Well, I am forever grateful for your help with the garden. Next year it will be better, I’m sure! I do love the time I spend out there, but I think I’ll need to figure out a solution for the squirrels – they are crazy in DC!

  • Melissa

    My husband was the green thumb. Me, not so much. When we first started seeing each other (both of us previously married and divorced) he joked that the deceased coleus on my dresser in the bedroom was “The Tomb of the Unknown Plant.” We moved into our most recent house, a new build, in 2012 and he did all the landscaping himself. By the time he died in late June we were having a extremely dry, hot summer here in Texas. I struggled to keep as much alive as I could, with the indoor plants as well. I know you’re supposed to talk to your plants, but you don’t want to hear what I said to mine. Threats, mainly. The ficus trees insisted on dropping their leaves and I think they did it just to spite me. I was a poor substitute for the guy who knew how to take care of them. We finally got some rain and I was relieved to see new growth on the roses outside and everything generally perking up again. So, like you found, I guess there was some life left there after all.

  • Henry

    My wife – an avid gardener – had a sign that said, “I’m in therapy; a garden is cheaper than a psychiatrist.”

  • Sheryll Brimley

    I need that sign too!! Glad your chard survived. I forgot to even plant chard seeds although I had the bed marked!! I don’t even remember planting our garden! I was in there a few days ago, cleaning it out & found many carrots among the weeds!!! And surprisingly…they are beautiful!! “Someone” made sure that your swiss chard & my carrots survived.

    • Marjorie

      I love this….and so glad that your carrots made it! I am trying to figure out recipes with chard….