Monday, April 25, 2011

Your Garden: Not Just For You

Picture this: orange chunks of sweet, juicy cantaloupe; crisp, dew-dropped lettuce; warm, fresh-roasted sweet bell peppers; firm, juice-gushing vine-ripened tomatoes.

Is your mouth watering yet?

It’s gardening season. For years pallets of bagged soil and six-pack starts in store parking lots made me cringe with guilt. Everyone always said that you need to plant a garden. I have never had my own home. I have never had enough space for a garden. To top it all, for a long time I had zero desire to garden.

My positive thoughts on gardening came on gradually until a major life change—becoming a stay-at-home mom—opened up enough home-focused time in my life to give me a chance to embrace gardening. But I don’t think I would have ever had the desire to plant a garden for myself if it were not for years of examples of wonderful gardeners from my past.

First: my parents. We tried to plant a garden every year of my childhood that I could remember. We most often failed. Our soil, climate, yard orientation relative to the sun, and infiltration of gophers just didn’t make for much success. Then we had a dog that ate our green vegetables before we had a chance to let them ripen and harvest them. That didn’t help things either.

More recently, even though the nest is mostly empty, my parents keep plowing ahead with their gardening efforts. Over the years, they’ve acquired citrus trees, which have been their best success, and now my mom’s homegrown lemonade is becoming the envy of summer wedding receptions in the area. My parents, even after decades, are still working and learning to make the best of their home and bit of earth.

But our struggles were not universal to our area. I could list a good handful of ward members whose thumbs were completely green. My wedding reception was held in the fairyland-like yard of one of those ward members. When I was a kid, we used to pick apples for a widow in the ward who didn’t have the energy to can anymore. Although I never pictured myself as a gardener for a long time, the success of these beautiful yards still filled me with an awe that I could not deny.

Finally, there are my in-laws. They are amazing gardeners. They have a huge backyard. They buy fancy seeds from a catalogue. Their produce looks better than what you can buy from the store. They have so much experience that they generally rotate from a fruit garden to a vegetable garden every other year just to keep themselves interested because they are such experts. And they are probably the ones who impacted me the most with regards to gardening. Why? Because they have shared.

A fall hasn’t gone by since I have been part of their family when my in-laws haven’t given us several laden baskets of beans, grapes, squash, berries, tomatoes—you name it. At first I felt bad about these generous gifts. I hadn’t done any of the work, and here I was basking in the riches of their labors. I felt even guiltier when I realized that their generosity was also saving me a lot on my grocery bill. But in time I realized that their garden produced more and to spare. They loved sharing the joy of their harvest, and they had so much that they needed to give a lot of it away.
It was this sense of generosity and bounty that really attracted me to gardening. My in-laws’ home-grown gifts brought me a lot of health and happiness, but I could tell that the health and happiness that the givers felt was many times more than what they gave away to me.

I have heard it said that the greatest joy of wealth is the ability to give it away. I have learned that the same is true with planting a garden. It is wonderful to grow your own produce, but even more joyful to have so much that you can give it away. Even our first tomato plant produced much more than we could dream of consuming. I loved giving tomatoes away to everyone that I loved!

I dragged my feet for years and years about planting a garden. Even now, I don’t own my own home; I live in a small apartment and garden out of a small, homemade garden box. Maybe you only have room for a small pot. Whatever it is, I hope you choose to garden at least to give. I aspire to being a neighbor or in-law who can’t help but give baskets of gorgeous tomatoes away every year. I want to be the older ward member who invites the younger families to pick and can from my fruit trees. I want to garden so I can give; how about you?

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