Sharing the fruits of your labor

A good friend tells me that gardening isn't just an act of hope, it's a morality play in which the forces of idealism and realism do battle. Every gardener has annual visions of grandeur, he explains, but the quest for picture-perfect plants frequently gives way to humbler aspirations. Why?

Because humans aren't the only fresh-food fans in the garden. There are also the furry residents who think one creature's hard work is another's salad bar. Wise gardeners, my friend says, make allowances, often after learning the hard way.

I still remember my late stepdad's first peach-tree harvest. He had waited four summers for his tree to mature. One evening he came into the house, smiling like a little kid. "The tree is covered with peaches," he said, gesturing wildly, "and tomorrow they'll be perfect."

The local deer thought his timetable was a bit off.

When my stepdad went outside the next day, only one fruit remained - and it was half eaten.

The next year, he picked sooner.

Another friend recalls a strawberry-loving skunk that adored her berries. Every night this black-and-white bandit would boldly march into her garden, which was near her hot tub. The skunk always did his harvesting while she was in the tub, sans clothing. Given how close her neighbors lived, there was no way she was going to protest.

The gardener's lesson is one that most people learn over and over, in various forms. Having high standards is fine, but the quest for a flawless Garden of Eden too often leads to frustration.

Wise gardeners know that cutting down the peach tree - or ripping out the strawberry patch - is not the answer. There's always another year, another chance for the sweet taste of success.

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