How Did I End Up Here?

I didn’t plan to be a gardener. In fact, my senior year of university I remember vowing to never live anywhere near a farm, where I’d lived through my teenage years, ever again. No more hands chapped, chaffed, and stained by soil or Black Walnut skins, no more broken, chipped fingernails, no more gloves with the ends of the fingers worn through, no more back sore from stooping and bending, no more picking hazelnuts up from the ground and stuffing them into my mother’s ruined nylon stockings, then hung to dry in the attic. No more sweating in noonday sun, picking raspberries and being scratched into a bloody mess. I even spurned one boyfriend’s proposal because I knew he would be a lifelong farmer. It would be the literary life for me—books, theater, symphony—and my life as a teacher. So it’s very curious, indeed, how I became the avid home gardener I am today.

At first, there was no place to BE a gardener in the town where I began my career. The weather in Southeast Oregon’s High Desert was not much conducive to farming in those days before backyard hoop houses. No one I met there had a greenhouse. But my hands and eyes got itching to play in the dirt and see things grow, even to pick those wretched raspberries. I began asking around and observed that some people did have gardens, and that they grew short season crops like radishes, green beans, and peas. I had a huge back yard and what else was I going to do with it? I’d missed the fresh vegetables every summer from my parents’ garden. If I hurried, between the last frost and blazing 100-degree weather, I could maybe get in some lettuce and broccoli. I, too, could spend time chopping up the hard, reddish-brown slugs of the region. The jars on the canning shelves in the basement began filling, as well as the freezer.

There still were not many flowers, only lawns and bushes, because, well…rattlesnakes, who hung out in the shade. The previous owner had planted phlox along the fence line, and those were flowers enough for me, then.

Ten years later, I had moved as far west as a person can go and still be on land, surrounded by lush greenery, and I thought I was in Heaven. I could really garden here! Once I bought a house, I put in a small garden, much to the consternation of my neighbor, who thought lawns looked much more dignified. He protested, à haute voix, to anyone who would listen, the sins of my garden fence. My gifts of fresh produce when summer came, hushed his tone to a quiet grumbling. I moved once again to a house with a hillside behind me, where I envisioned terraces of burgeoning flowers and a vegetable garden. Through trial and error, I learned how best to cultivate flowers and food a mile from the ocean, what grew and what didn’t and what worked to keep deer away (nothing, short of a shotgun).

Now I live inland on a lovely, flat acreage, where my husband and I grow flowers, small fruits, and vegetables; where we have a small orchard of fruit trees that give us more apples than we know what to do with every autumn. I am working in a garden of some sort from February to December. So much for young adult proclamations!

Why am I a gardener now? I have the genes of my father and his father before him. I also believe that the beauty of flowers and the magic of growing things wormed its way into my childhood brain until it was a part of me and an addiction I couldn’t and no longer wanted to battle. I can’t exist or imagine a life without sunshine and fresh air, my hands soaking up the healing microbes in the soil as I work. My guess is once you’ve spent time as a child in a garden, you’re a goner.