A grand announcement, and a lesson in humility

It seems only yesterday that I made the grand announcement. "My garden's in," I'd said, coming in the doorway through which I had emerged only 30 minutes earlier with four packets of seeds.

"Your garden's in?" repeated Mother in surprise. "Nancy hasn't planted her garden yet." Her tone spoke volumes. Nancy is our landlady, and she moves to an inner rhythm, unfamiliar to me, when it comes to doing yard work.

"She's busy with the trees and shrubs she ordered to replace the big pines," I said. "I saw her planting the yews along the edge of the banking yesterday. Anyway, my garden's in," I reiterated, emphasizing the "my."

Nancy would be impressed when she found my garden was already planted. I know I was, and so was Mother. I had bought the seeds at the local hardware store earlier in the afternoon: sunflowers, "Glorious Red" radishes, lettuce, and pickle-sized cucumbers. That ought to do it, what with Nancy's bounty - when she harvests her produce - providing a nice complement to my modest efforts.

This whole garden idea started a year ago last spring when I won, as a prize in a poetry contest, a bag of potting soil, three varieties of sunflower seeds, and a collection of little containers in which to put the soil and seeds. I duly planted and watered the seeds in their tiny pots, watching them sprout as they sat in the sun by the open door of the garage. One day Nancy told me that now I could think about transplanting them into the garden.

The ones next to the green fence that surrounds Nancy's end of the garden plot grew breathtakingly tall. The others grew as high as they were supposed to. They commanded much attention when cut and displayed in a chunky pottery bowl in the front hallway. The remaining ones provided food for the birds, who plucked each head clean by the end of summer.

I made a note on my calendar for June of this year to plant the few sunflower seeds left. But then I got the inspiration to do the whole gardening thing, adding a new variety of sunflower and a few vegetables. I liked the idea of picking my own fresh lettuce, cukes, and radishes, washing them under the outside faucet and bringing them into the kitchen.

That triumphant day when I launched my garden has long since passed. Dutiful watering produced some radishes: punky, worm-riddled red globes. The cucumbers turned back on themselves and then expanded into bloated apostrophes. The sunflowers didn't match in number the seeds I'd planted. The few yellow-green lettuce leaves that poked through the surface of the earth were lost in the sturdy weeds. It had been too hot to spend much time weeding.

Meanwhile, Nancy was regularly leaving freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers on our doorstep.

It didn't take me long to learn the lesson of this gardening experience, and it had nothing to do with timing, a green thumb, or anything like that. It should have been obvious from last year's bounty generously left on our front stoop.

Why try to duplicate what had already been successfully done? Attempting to mimic Nancy, the gardening pro, was a foolhardy idea at best, producing nothing but embarrassment. Well, that's not the only thing it produced: I've already got a plan for next year's garden. It's going to be sunflowers all the way. I might even leave a bouquet of them on Nancy's doorstep.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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