Some people weren't meant to be gardeners

Three gardeners reflect on the joys - and tribulations - of digging in the dirt.

When I lived in the city I had an excuse for not joining the gardening frenzy - no space. So I did the next best thing and purchased my produce from farmers' markets.

My friends who had land were already raring to go by April. Getting seed catalogs in September made their eyes gleam.

They ate food that they had grown themselves, and I was envious, for all I had ever grown was a field of flourishing dandelions. So I was determined to make that change once we headed for the country.

I always wanted to have a big garden. My mother's garden had always been a square acre of organized efficiency. The vegetables lay in neat, straight rows, alphabetically arranged. Even the pumpkins kept their vines in line. The lettuce was slugless, and the tomatoes plump and juicy. How could I not want that?

Soon after we first moved in, I came up with the idea of planting corn around the sundeck. In my fantasies, we would be out barbecuing with the relatives and picking plump corn from my crop, roasting it to perfection.

I put the seeds in the ground, covered them, and watered them once or twice. Nature should take care of them, I reasoned. No one told me about soil conditioning, fertilizing, or how seeds don't normally grow in cedar chips.

I was still determined to be self- sufficient. One morning with shovel and hoe and puppy in tow, I decided I would "clear the land" near the chicken coop and surprise my husband with my efforts. It was going to be a gorgeous garden, like one I had seen in a magazine. A Celtic knot with flowers, herbs, and vegetables, and a pond in the middle. What could be so hard about that?

After four hours of digging, in what is now called "the rockery," I had cleared a patch about the size of two sheets of paper.

I learned later from one of the neighbors that the soil in this neck of the woods was no good. He saidthat I would have to bring in topsoil and build up the garden; using raised beds was ideal. Manure had to be worked in at certain times of the year, creating an aroma that only a gardener could love.

Also working against my gardening efforts was the wide variety of wildlife. We had raccoons, cougars, and deer.

Did I mention deer? These were not your run-of-the-mill, caught-in-the-headlights kind of deer. No, these were highly intelligent deer. I would see them watch the gardeners along the country road and at the moment of produce perfection, they would send word by white-flag tail: Harvest time was nigh.

Deer netting did not always deter them. I have seen one deer raise the netting with his antlers to let others scoot under.

Raccoons harvested tomatoes out of the pots I tended by the kitchen window. No doubt they made tasty midnight snacks.

The squirrels devoured the fruit on my cherry tree in 10 minutes flat.

With blistered hands and bruised ego, I admitted defeat. No, I would not be the green-thumbed goddess of the garden, but (shh!) one of those women who secretly buy produce from back-road suppliers and pawn it off as their own.

So I gave up my dream of being a proper gardener.

But there is much guilt to not growing one's own vegetables, especially when living in the country.

I thought I was the only one till my friend, the minister's wife made a confession to me. Lydia admitted that she had done an amazingly liberating thing. She had gone through her gardening files, the ones that were two inches thick, and had thrown out all but about one-eighth inch.

She figures she has lived lived half a century and has never been a gardener yet. "I probably never will be," she whispered as we pretended to go through the seed packet rows at the hardware store. "I should stop setting myself up for that growing guilt."

Later we swore other women into our secret club of black thumbs.

I still keep a mini greenhouse and some window boxes with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and, of course, peas.

If they die before the relatives come to visit, I have a supplier who delivers plants off the back of a truck so my company can ooh and ahh. What's a little green lie between friends anyway?

Lettuce give thanks for such miracles as those plants grown by someone else. As the minister's wife says, "Let others reap for a change."

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