Why We Garden

Monday, August 2, 2010
I started dreaming of a garden when I lived in a 12 by 20 shack. Outside snow covered the ground. When I hunched over my desk, burrowing into my layers of wool and down, I sometimes wondered if the spot beneath the bird feeder might be a little too shady a spot for a garden when the snow all melted. At night under the sloping ceiling of our loft bedroom, I sketched diagrams of imagined gardens. I checked out gardening books from the library. 

To be truthful, I really wanted flowers. While the Christmas cactus sat stagnantly on a bathroom shelf, the vine-y houseplant beside the cactus faithfully produced new leaves with a methodical rhythm. The house plants stood as a reminder of green growth, but in a snow white world, I dreamed of cascading, colorful blossoms or pretty nosegay for the kitchen table.
Meanwhile, Andy dreamed of garden vegetables. It's easy to grow tired of baby carrots in the dead of winter, when almost all the other produce on the grocery shelves appear to have barely survived some sort of vegetable warfare. 

Of course in northern Minnesota, gardening can only be viewed as an act of optimism. Even after we moved out of the Shack for the summer, the new gardens we had an opportunity to plant were shady and plagued with somewhat questionable soil. Weather always poses a problem: too hot, too cold, too dry, too windy, too wet. But we were curious to see what we could coax into growing. While the zucchini have had an abysmal go of it (who has trouble growing zucchini?!), we’ve managed to get some beautiful tomatoes and peppers from the pots on the deck. Will wonders never cease?

In this day and age of big corporation, when every documentary on big business tells you to vote with your wallet when it comes to shaping your life and country, it seems silly not to attempt to put a very small portion of food on your own table. Our gardens might not be the most fruitful and certainly they could benefit from us spending just a lot more time on them, but even gathering a small amount of green beans from the garden every other morning or so can make dinner a lot more exciting. What comes from the garden is so much better than what we can get in the store, especially when you live in a rural place and “fresh” food has spent quite a long time being “fresh” before it ever gets to the store shelf, let alone your refrigerator. Not only is gardening pretty good for the planet, it also makes our stomachs and hearts extremely happy.

So we garden for color, for hope, for food. Throwing fresh arugula into a salad, tossing fresh basil with pasta and grilled garden veggies, eating that first steamed green bean of the season, it seemed worth the bother.

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