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Discovered: my inner gardener

A brown thumb turns green.

By Sarah Ludwig Rausch / April 14, 2008



I have always thought that I was born with a brown thumb and an innate inability to nurture anything green. Despite my good intentions, the few times I've owned a plant, I've managed to ensure its death either by drowning or dehydration.

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The only plant I've owned that actually flourished was an African violet with velvety purple blossoms that stood on the small windowsill in my bedroom. I was 9 years old, and I spent hours reading to it after hearing that this could help it grow. Whenever a flower would bloom, I'd be as excited as a kid going to the county fair.

But every summer when I was a child, my parents would make my sister and me weed my grandparents' ridiculously large (we thought) flower garden. It was exhaustingly hard work.

As we took frequent breaks to collapse on the grass, sweaty and sapped, I vowed never to subject myself to such torture when I had a choice. Weeding was by far the absolute worst chore on earth.

Despite my wariness, I planted my first real garden last spring. I don't believe there's anything nicer in the realm of food than preparing dinner and going out to your garden to pick juicy sweet corn, crisp cucumbers, or savory green beans to go with the meal, as my mother-in-law did every year. Eating garden-ripened fruits and vegetables at her house year after year finally inspired me to try to grow my own.

From the beginning, there was work to do in the garden every day, work I expected to detest but decided I would put up with for the sake of having fresh veggies. However, I was surprised to discover that not only did I not mind taking care of my garden, I became a passionate, albeit inexperienced, gardener. Weeding, which I had once considered the ultimate torturous chore, became one of my favorite pastimes.

My mother – who was also under the impression that I'd never be able to keep a plant for longer than a week, let alone grow and maintain a garden – was stunned when she saw my vivid sunflowers, long vines of fat cucumbers, and plump pumpkins prepared for fall picking.

She exclaimed over the snappy flavor of my green beans, the way my peas burst into sharp sweetness, the candy-flavored butternut squash – and she gladly carted home bags filled with the fruits of my efforts.

As a mom of four young children, time to myself is scarce. Evenings that summer usually found me out in the garden alone, savoring the silence, relishing the warm, earthy scent I uncovered with every weed I pulled; listening to the satisfying vvvrip of roots ripping out of their sheaths; feeling the dark, damp loam squish in between my fingers.

If the color brown could be described, it would be the smell and feel of rich soil. Who needs Calgon when there's gardening?

Perhaps even better was the quiet time the garden allowed me with my children. As my twin daughters and I planted and then picked beans, peas, carrots, cucumbers, and squash, we had talks we never would have had in the normal commotion of our lives. With no distractions from the computer, TV, or trying to put together a meal, I learned a great deal about the girls behind the title of "daughters" just by working in the garden with them.

When a summer storm dropped hail all over my lovingly nurtured, half-grown plants, I suddenly understood the worry and dismay farmers in my agricultural community must feel when storms blow in, feelings I now had, too, only on a much lesser scale. Would my plants be flattened and all my hard work blown away with the ferocious wind? That storm gave me a new appreciation and respect for occupations that depend on the vagaries of the weather or climate. Fortunately, my little garden weathered the storm with no damage.

It was a sad day when I had to accept that my garden was through for the year, an unwelcome harbinger of the long winter months to come.

Still, going months without a garden does heighten anticipation for the coming of spring, and it intensified my appreciation of warmer weather and the potential for planting. Coming soon is that time of year when I'll be able to plant my garden and again have my own little patch of paradise – a place where time isn't an issue, deadlines are moot, and all that matters are the tasks at hand.

Although several of my ancestors were farmers, that fact always seemed remote to me. I'm a born and bred city girl, a transplant to rural life, a self-proclaimed inadvertent plant slayer. I never expected my ancestors' way of life to become so deeply a part of mine. But it seems that a penchant for dirt, sun, and seeds, and the savoring of just-picked produce isn't easily diluted, even through three generations.

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