I was slow to grasp the joy of gardening. I blame this on my mother, who appointed me the Chief Picker-Upper of Rotting Grapefruit when I was a child. Since we lived in central Florida--which is where Satan lives when he leaves the underworld, seeing that central Florida is about the same temperature as the inferno he's used to--and since we had three massive grapefruit trees in our backyard, there was no shortage of rotting grapefruit. And, for all the aforementioned reasons, they were always crawling with the sort of vermin for which Florida is famous. No, not THAT kind of vermin. I'm talking the multi-legged, antennaed and winged kind of vermin. It's a wonder I even EAT grapefruit today, but I digress.
So despite the fact that I come from a long line of French vineyard owners, Alabama sharecroppers, and Florida farmers, I did not embrace my horticultural heritage until recently. I think it happened when bell peppers went to a dollar a piece. That is as obscene as fat white thighs in hot pants, and I decided right then and there that it was time to channel my inner Old McDonald and find a hoe that fit my hand. Let me be clear: there is no chance that my efforts in the garden are ever going to make any significant contribution toward ending world hunger; for every plant that survives my tender loving care, two succumb. Possibly three. (My sons would say ten, but they certainly never wander out to help, so what do they know?) In any case, it could be this dubious success record that makes me so giddy when I finally bring a plant to fruition. All I know is, it is BEYOND COOL to eat something that looks absolutely beautiful, is right-off-the-vine fresh, tastes amazing, and started out as nothing but a little tiny white (or black, or brown) speck.
I head toward my garden, kitchen shears in hand, wicker basket swinging on my arm, feeling like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm--noble, virtuous, at one with the universe. Probing gently through the phalanx of green, my fingers search for pay dirt: slender bean pods, shiny eggplants, plump tomatoes, tender squash. It's enough to make one turn vegetarian and, indeed, at the peak of summer's abundance, I can happily make a meal solely from garden treats.
The problem is that good gardening requires constant, vigilant, repeated attention--a trait for which I am most assuredly not known. I tend to get excited at the beginning and the end of projects, sort of losing interest in the middle. Thus my garden is rarely the orderly thing of beauty I wish it to be. I envision neatly coiffed vines and uniformly round shrubs sprouting from symmetrical rows of raised beds...whimsical art and beckoning benches scattered along well-groomed paths...a trellis awash in morning glories offering cool shade in a quiet corner. Ah, well. For that, I fear hired help may be necessary, and I don't see a Garden Boy in my budget anytime soon. So I shall have to be content with the occasional exciting harvest, plants that survive only through the grace of God and Mother Nature, rose-colored glasses that don't see weeds where watermelons should be, and the very precious gift of positive thinking. Surely the faucets of my gene pool will gush forth sooner or later; in the meantime, the memory of my green beans is delicious.