I have many useful ingredients in my arsenal of skills: a huge helping of creativity, a learned ability to set priorities and schedules to get things done, keen observation talents that are useful for a writer, passion for understanding how human emotions work and (dare I say it, my gamer “Friends”) a talent for Words. What I do not have or ever hope to have is a green thumb.
My dear husband and a landscaping friend built me a giant square wooden box in our fenced-in townhouse backyard about six years ago that has been responsible for this discovery. I was truly excited and inspired the first year I had “the box”: I bought a 4-inch-thick book on everything-you-would-ever-imagine-knowing about herbs and spent a delightful Saturday morning visiting a garden store talking at length with the proprietor about what I should grow. I brought home way too many plants and crowded them into that box, only to have them immediately begin to compete for space. Mint won out (as I understand it often does) and soon I was drinking Mojitos just to be able to use a tiny portion of what I had growing in my yard (or at least, that was my excuse).
No problem. My first lesson was learned. Next year, I did not buy mint at all and I cut way back on the number of plants. Lo and behold, my first crop of herbs was born and I felt at last I’d become a woman of the earth. Then I was faced with what to do with the result. A few fresh leaves of thyme in my potatoes, a failed experiment of rosemary in eggs, and I realized, most of the crop was going to waste.
Again, no problem. The following year I read up on how to dry herbs and hung sprigs of rosemary, thyme, basil around the kitchen. This experiment may have been worth it just for how glorious the kitchen smelled, but I quickly discovered that crushing herbs and sifting out stems and seeds and other unwanted material was a time-consuming process that was actually quite silly in light of how easy it is to buy a supply from the store.
It was time to switch tactics. Because I love fresh flowers, I decided to use “the box” to grow cut flowers. Back to the garden store for bulbs and discussion. I was seeking something that came back each year so the result didn’t depend on replanting. I was so excited when the leaves began to push their way through the soil, then grow upward and finally sprout buds. The excitement petered out as the buds produced tiny flowers that died before I got a chance to snip them. I kept thinking they’d continue to grow: had I somehow planted miniature daffodils? Were tulips really that washed out in color? I gave those bulbs two more years to see if they would somehow mature and produce adult-sized flowers, but by year three I realized these flowers needed something I couldn’t give: loving care and probably some plant food.
So I went back to the drawing board once again and decided to save some money and grow vegetables. Here was a truly healthy choice that would support my passion for good eats. I read up on what was easiest to grow, then bought a few experimental seed packets. I started with several kinds of peppers, zucchini and a cucumber plant, and I made sure I bought the right kind of plant food and soil. I watered them religiously and was rewarded in my efforts by lush green leaves that fanned out over the width of the box, looking for all the world like a true Mr. McGregor’s garden. The neighborhood bunnies agreed with that assessment. I came out one morning to discover that every single one of those leaves had disappeared over night. All that was left of my garden were stubby stalks, which I knew were not going to make it. At least someone had a feast!
These days “the box” has one plant: a blueberry bush I planted three years ago. It produced nothing but pellets that first year, but this year I got a half pint of full size blueberries! I’ve kept the tree going despite the paltry yield for one reason: we now have two dogs who love to jump up on “the box,” dig in the dirt and lay down for a nap. For some reason, they (and the neighborhood bunnies) leave the blueberry bush alone.
I guess I’ll stick to farming words.
Genilee Swope Parente