When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes have me help her in our little garden. She was a farmer's daughter who couldn't wait to get off the farm, but we usually had a small garden where she raised a few vegetables. She also knew which of the "weeds" that grew in our neighborhood would cook up into greens--dock and dandelions are the two I primarily remember. She would cook them for hours and I always enjoyed them. However, it was when I spent summers at my Grandmother's and uncles' farms that I really got a glimpse of gardening. My Aunt Jeanne had a huge garden filled with all kinds of vegetables. There is nothing quite like picking a ripe Missouri tomato from the vine, sitting on a swing, and eating it out of hand, with the red juice running down your fingers. My aunt would pay any of the nieces who happened to be about to help pick peas and then shell them. We'd sit together on the porch and listen to her stories as the peas rolled out of the pods and into the measuring cups.
After my family moved from Oklahoma to New Jersey, we seldom went back to visit my parents' relatives in Missouri. I was soon sucked into academics in high school and then college, and after I got married, my husband and I lived in Manhattan, so the closest I got to gardening was in a begonia I set in our windowsill looking out on Broadway.
When I got pregnant, we moved to an apartment in Hackensack, and the begonia came along with us. I added a few plants to our balcony, killed a bonsai that my boss gave me (unintentionally) and proved that I didn't have a green thumb.
Then we bought a house in a town of 6,000 next door to where we had lived when we met in New Jersey years before. It was on half an acre, and I discovered how little I knew about gardening. There were green things coming up in the middle of the grass, and later, larger green things coming up in the flower beds. I had to ask one of my neighbors what they were; she told me I had crocuses in the yard, and daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips coming up all over the flowerbeds. The couple who owned the house before us must have planted 500 bulbs over the years they had owned the house, and I added several hundred more, so that from our first January thaw well into June, we had a symphony of color as well as fragrance, for in addition to the hyacinths, we had mock orange bushes and lilacs. I perused plant catalogues all winter and planted madly as soon as the plants arrived, in addition to all the bulbs I put in the beds in the fall. I read gardening books and would dash outside the minute the baby was asleep. As she was an excellent sleeper, I put in hours of work in the yard every day, with her window open so I could hear when she woke up and started shouting "Mommay!" Looking back, those seem like idyllic times, though I was struggling with depression and didn't realize it until much later. But when I was out in the sunshine life seemed happier and the dark clouds in my mind retreated. And even now, when planting my fourth tomato plant out in the garden, I realized that gardening is always a choice for hope--hope that the weather won't get too cold at night for the new tomato plants and hope that the 2" tall sugar snap pea seedlings will reward me with a delicious harvest before the weather gets too hot. The liquidambar trees are budding, and the plants that my gardener put in my flower beds this year when I decided to do a makeover are flourishing in many colors and shapes. Spring is shaking out a many-colored patchwork quilt and my whole being is rejoicing.