I am attempting to start a porch garden. There is something in my head that is insisting on it…telling me that in order to be a complete and accurately functioning success of a human being, I need to be able to cultivate something with my own hands. Something green and thriving, healthy, wholesome, wasteless. Something wrought with simple ingredients and a little bit of love. Something that, like me, acquires its energy from the sun.
Years and years ago, my mother decided to start a garden. I don’t remember the genesis of the idea, only that one day, she’d started, and had uncharacteristcally allowed me to horn in. I carried only one memory of a real garden; my Poppi’s, and I was keen to help create such a wonderland in my own world. An Eden of hot peppers, tomatoes and onions, it was the unspoken ideal, the model, the vision. We weren’t gardeners, she and I, only decendants of a gardener, but there was hope in our striving. A dream.
My father borrowed a neighbor’s tiller and turned the dirt over for us and we went to work straight away, laboring blindly toward a Beatrix Potter watercolor.
I insisted on furrows. A proper garden must have furrows, else how do you know what it is upon looking? She obliged me and gave me a bit on my own to accomplish my vision. I knelt my bony knees into the dirt, and, ignoring the unpleasant sensation of loam beneath my nails, piled the dirt up into even mounds with pathways in between to walk. We pushed seeds into thumbprint holes and relocated trays of herb starters and tomato saplings. It was quiet work, and hot, and I enjoyed feeling useful to her.
As we stood next to each other, akimbo and brushing the dirt from our sticky skin, we tried to imagine the green grown in. “I think we need more tomato plants, Jennifer.” She looked at me with a question on her face and then answered with action, speaking again over her shoulder as she made for the french doors in the back: “C’mon, let’s go back to the nursery. We’ll have lunch.”
As I sit here now, I couldn’t give many more particulars about that garden. I can’t remember weeding it or watching it grow. I can’t remember what else we planted, or if there was anything that failed to thrive and disappointed us. Did I get lost being a child somewhere, leaving my mother to the hardest part of the tending? Were there roasted eggplant and onion each night for dinner? Did my mother stand by the stove in the warm summer evenings asking me to run out to snip a parcel of chives? Nothing. It’s all lost, gathering dust on a memory shelf in the attic.
There were other attempts as I grew older. Purple passion plants set on a windowsill in a dorm room. A fated attempt to cultivate a Wandering Jew in a dining room turned apartment bedroom. Wildflower seeds scattered against a decrepit and fading blue duplex. Paperwites left moldering in rock filled Tom Collins glasses. All this with varied effects…mostly tragic, gnarled and brown.
The silent truth is not a black thumb, but my ever shortening attention span and embarrassing affinity for laziness. Plants require a consistency that I am ill-equipped to provide. I forget or think “Later” so many times during the day that the idea of Tomorrow might have become a mantra. I avoid and put-off right up until the nanosecond before negative consequences ensue…and sometimes the nanosecond after. Too often consumed with my present and the often imagined drama with which I surround it, I find myself too harried and frenetic to sustain slow processes. I’m a tapping foot, a startle response, a springing spring just released….
Here I am now with my hands in the soil, searching in a real way to ground myself; to gain what I believe is offered in this process. Patience. Grace. Composure. I don’t want a time-lapse world anymore, morphing swiftly all around me, speeding me toward an end result. Instead, I’m yearning. Seeking. Feeling out and lacking for peace and a purpose.
I knew when I planted these seeds, that I would not wake up the next morning to find bright green shoots punching up through the surface. But that next day, and the next and the next, I surely stepped out onto my porch and sat on my haunches, hoping for those very signs to indicate I hadn’t botched the whole thing. I smiled to myself (and broadly) when that first grassy leaf held its arms open to the sun, but despaired over the next 48 hours until more were ready. I held my breath against frost, and shook my fist at the odd cloud.
I’m in it for the haul, this time, each inner fiber in dire need of that calm connect. I am living for that moment where I can stoop over the fruits of my labor to pluck a fragrant herb from its stem in order to pop it directly into a simmering red sauce. Each day, as my eyes pour over the teeny plants, I remind myself to enjoy the process, to take gratification in the small success so far attained. I smile at the beauty that is here in front of me RIGHT NOW, and remember that there is still a long row to hoe.