This is the first time I haven’t had a garden since I left New Jersey ten years ago. Even in Ferrum, where we were under attack by the Evils, I had a garden. How could I not? One of the previous owners had put in raised beds and a little picket fence with a gate. You could access it from the porch off the kitchen, handy when you needed another potato for dinner, and see it from the upstairs sleeping porch—square boxes, paths of yellow pebbles, a birdhouse with a copper roof on a post and a bee box in the corner. I sat on a green hickory rocking chair, as old as the house, a ceiling fan above me, an old metal clothesline pulley on one of the posts in front of me and looked down. That is when I wasn’t dodging bullets from the Evils’ direction. But that’s a whole other story.
I put in a garden here last spring; our first year here. It was a good spot and it was a bad spot. When you first move to a place, you never know how things are going to work out, what to put where, what to fix first, and if you need a barn or fencing, or the previous owner hasn’t left you a garden, you have to make a lot of decisions fast. You make these decisions before you’ve had a chance to settle in. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t. As time goes on, you tweak it. You move the pots and pans to the cabinet next to the stove. You repaint the bedroom wall. You find a better spot for the brush pile. Or in the case of permanent changes it’s too late to do anything about, you make a note, the next time you move, you won’t put the barn there, because it was too close to the house. Or not close enough.
I wasn’t even completely unpacked yet when I had to decide where to put the garden. I thought I picked a good spot. It was good because it was convenient, not far from the house, right next to the barn and hydrant. Close, but not in the way. But it was bad too because that part of the yard was in low spot. It would actually make a good volleyball court if I ever played volleyball again (I haven’t played since I was in high school thirty-five years ago but I keep thinking about it) because it’s a perfect square, surrounded by posts we put around the edges of the driveway to keep the gravel where it’s supposed to be; not spilling into the grass. It would also be a good spot to put a wicker chair and read a book under the mulberry tree. But the tree is right near the road and everyone would look at me when they drove by. They would say, “What is she out there reading again? Her husband is working like a dog and she’s reading a book!” I’d rather them see me pulling weeds and picking tomatoes so I crossed my fingers, hoped the low spot was not going to be a problem and I read my books on the deck where they can’t see me.
I did get tomatoes and zucchini but my peppers didn’t grow. This was the first time I planted something and nothing happened. To tell you the truth, I was shocked. Kelly’s boyfriend, who is a farmer, supplied me with plenty of bell peppers when mine failed, but that is not the point. Having a garden is not just about eating the delicious vegetables you’ve grown, but the magic of growing them. Plus, I can’t be dependent on Mario’s good will every time I want to make a salad.
I didn’t try again. What was I out of my mind, putting in a garden the first year I was here? It’s the second year now and we still have tons of work to do. There are still broken windows, stained carpet, and fences half falling down, tangled up in rusty barbed wire and poison ivy. That’s what you get when you buy a fixer-upper. Plus I can’t decide on a new spot.
Then it occurred to me. Why was I doing all that work when I had Charlie right next door? Charlie sells organic vegetables off a picnic table on the side of the road. He has all the important stuff—tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, peppers and they are cheap. Even if my peppers had grown and could win prizes at the county fair, I was actually losing money, if you thought about it, if I didn’t get them from Charlie. It cost me more money to grow my own vegetables when you add up what it costs to buy the plants and the vegetable food and all the other stuff you need every year—it could be bone meal, new tomato cages, twine, gardening gloves because the old ones have holes in the fingers… And I’m not even including the cost of my labor! So why do all that work when Charlie was right next door and all I had to do was walk over? Not to mention the fact that I have a broken back. Which is the same reason I can’t put in a volleyball court. But I can read a book under the mulberry tree. I’ll just put a sign out there, “Not loafing while husband is at work. Back broken. Plus Charlie has corn.”