Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear sister: here's what's so fulfilling

My sister, who would probably enjoy growing vegetables, and who had actually begun experimenting with container gardening before baby Emmy and her shining smile came along and changed our lives forever, sent me a thought-provoking e-mail. Here's an excerpt:

I've been thinking lately about your gardening too. what do you think it is that you like so much? Like, you said yourself in a post a while back that you get obsessed with ideas and then go fully into it, but sometimes they don't last. So why do you think gardening has lasted? What do you find so fulfilling? You're much, much better at this, but you don't really eat vegetables, you hate bugs, for a while you hated being sweaty...what gives? :) Write a post on that!

Dear Sister,

You're right, I generally do not like vegetables, fully hate bugs, and it's fair to say that I don't like to sweat. But I've gotten much better not just about the veggies, but also the bugs and the sweating.

It's true I don't like veggies. Remember when our mother would make me sit at the dinner table in front of a plate of greens, all alone after everyone was done eating? She'd be washing dishes, threatening all kinds of malice if I didn't eat my greens? Remember how I'd be in tears at the texture of peas? Remember how I'd gag on the taste of mushrooms? Well, maybe not because you'd eaten your vegetables and were gone. Well, I was scarred. Despite these early traumatic dinner table incidents, I've acquired a taste for certain vegetables (avocado, beans, artichokes, baby spinach). Sure they sort of just cross the line into the category of vegetables, and some aren't even real vegetables, but you know. It's been rough. Guess what though? In the past few years, since I've been gardening, I've acquired a taste for edamame, butternut squash (only if it's in soup), tomatoes (only served certain ways or I'll start gagging - and I can't eat any seeds), and this year...get this...I tried some asparagus for the first time!!! It was really good! But then again, I was really hungry, I only ate one spear, and it was purple. I think I'd have to build up some serious reserves to eat green ones. You'll still never catch me eating broccoli, peas, green beans, etc. However, even though I don't eat it all, there are many veggies that are fun to grow, and the health benefits of growing organic produce picked minutes before cooking makes vegetable gardening very fulfilling. As long as my kids keeps falling for the, "Oh, mommy has already eaten her portion while she was cooking", it should all work out. Check it out...the weekend's harvest - wouldn't you feel fulfilled?

Here's my oregano. It's next to the thyme and basil. I used to grow a larger variety of herbs, but these are the three I use most in my cooking. Having fresh herbs means I can cook more creatively, and think beyond the usuals I feed my family. Also, since I've started gardening, I've found that we eat and think more seasonally, and it's wonderful to sort of mark time in this way. It's fall - it's getting cold. The leaves are changing. The bowl of butternut-leek soup with some crusty French bread is going to feel really nice this weekend...

Sister, you and I both - we despise those bugs. I'll be honest in saying that in an afternoon's gardening, I labor away silently, pausing from time to time only to curse aloud at the bugs. Here are the bugs on my most (un)wanted list: the boxelder, the roly-poly, the slug, the flea beetle, the aphid, and my newest nemesis - the grub. Then of course, are the ones in the "scary" category: the stinkbug, the cicada, the praying mantis, the tomato hornworm. I have no appreciation for bugs. I realize their importance in ecology, but every bug I stop to observe, morbidly fascinated by, I find to be ugly, disgusting, or a nuisance. My belief in karma is the only thing that keeps me from smooshing every bug I see, beneficial or non-beneficial to the gardener. But here's the reality - you dig in the dirt, you find bugs. Over the years, I've become less frightened of bugs, because I've learned a little about their habits. A spider is more afraid of me than I am of it. A horrible looking cicada - is often just the shell of a horrible looking cicada. Ultimately, I have probably become a bit jaded by and less fearful of the bugs, and have learned to just allow them to live. The dirt belongs more to them than to me, I suppose. I guess we've reached an understanding. If they don't crawl on my neck, they don't get smooshed. If they don't crawl on my hand, they don't get flung across the yard. And worms? Well, we're on real friendly terms right now. A lot of garden bloggers I know are big on bugs. They have sniper-like camera lenses and eyes like hawks. Part of my survival strategy is that I really don't look too closely for bugs. I did spy this guy this weekend, and nearly had a heart attack in fear that it'd jump on me as I took this photo... So do I like it? No. Is it disgusting and scary? A thousand times yes. Does it keep me from spending time in my garden? See photos above.

I generally don't like to sweat, sister, you're right. I don't like being sticky. I hate humidity. I don't like my face to grease up. I don't like to walk around town hot. Sweating has always gone hand in hand with being tired and cranky. And if I can't get my hands on a frappucino, then there will be hell to pay by anyone who gets in my way. In the garden, it's different.

While I would really enjoy some easy strolling in the garden, shears in hand deadheading some pretty flowers, then enjoying some relaxing on a lounge chair under an umbrella, I truly enjoy working, and doing hard physical labor (remember my landscaping project?). Perhaps this will change if I ever get my garden to look just-so, but somehow I doubt this will ever happen. My friend Grace has mentioned that I move my plants around a lot. Very little has stayed where it originally was several years ago. I have new ideas to try, new plants to try, new beds to build, and so far I've expanded the perennial garden every year. Here is my work from this weekend - expanding the perennial garden. It was a cool-weathered weekend, but I was still sweating for hours. I've found a few strategies work for me though - the bandana thingy with the gel inside that you soak in water (that we got in Denver) really helps on extremely hot (like black-out inducing) days. A bandana or wrist band helps mop the sweat that threatens to blind me under the hot sun, and making an effort to go inside and drink water is really important.

So dear sister, let's just talk about this photo, and you'll understand why gardening is so fulfilling for me. It may look silly now with a bunch of baby plants, but this garden will look great when the plants are established. I will get to walk through a garden every day. I will get to closely examine the sedum. I will get to touch the lamb's ear. I will get to catch the fragrance of the roses and oriental lilies. I will get to awe at the delphinium. I will get to appreciate every day, a clematis that is shamelessly beautiful. This weekend, I worked about 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday - stripping sod, moving it to another location, digging through clay and removing rocks, mixing in the compost, planting, and mulching. I was covered in dirt, probably had bugs in my hair, and sweat my ass off. But you know what? It felt really fulfilling.


  1. Hi Wendy~~ Great post! I need to get a gel-bandana!

    I can ditto almost everything you said. And like your sister, I've wondered why gardening has stayed with me while other hobbies have faded into oblivion. Hobbies that were much easier, less expensive and with instant gratification. Gardening is none of those things but it's so addictive and rewarding.

    I'm not much of a veggie person either. Remember canned peas? I had a grandmother that loved to torture my siblings and me with those ghastly pseudo-foods. Child abuse!

    Bugs: Size matters. Any bug under say, a tenth of an inch is maybe a tiny bit cute. Anything over an inch is more frightening than bad news from the doctor. Grubs? I agree. Stealth little devils.

    And tearing out sod has got to be one of the worst gardening tasks. Your new project looks great now and a year from now, when the back breaking work is a distant memory, stand back!

  2. I hate those bugs too! I think no one could describe these little horrible monsters as well as you have just did. You know waht, I too do not like vege when I as a kid ha ha... I remember they taste bitter (that's why I didn't take them!). Btw, your weekend harvest was marvellous. Love those chillies. I didn't know chillies could grow so well in temperate climate 'green thumbs' :-D

  3. I could have written this post myself. I am not a veggie eater, but growing my own has convinced me to try some new things and - surprise! - some of those veggies are actually good! And some aren't but that's okay because my family still eats them. I was one of those kids sitting at the dinner table until bedtime too.

    And bugs! Ew! I still scream and run from wasps, of which have hundreds. But aside from that, we just ignore one another. My parents, having watched me shudder and run inside with tears streaming, are fascinated by my love for gardening. I'm now able to stand in the garden with crickets hopping all around my feet and remain calm. :-)

    Gardening is definitely a good way to grow, isn't it?

  4. I find gardening very fulfilling because I get to see the results of my efforts. I'll be so happy to see the plants that I grow and nurture start to bloom and bear fruits. Unlike our babies, they do not talk back at us. Plants gives me so much happiness when they are growing but when plants die, I am sad but I do not need to grief because soon I can plant another similar one. Sometimes, a person needs to work alone and in silence with the things that we like in order to find true peace and relaxation. The reward is definitely worth all the sweat.

  5. First, a big CONGRATS to your wonderful looking harvest there, Girl! Thost beautiful squash would win ribbons in the County Fair!
    Second, I'm glad your sis' email encouraged this wonderful post!

    I'm surprised, though, learning of your long dislike list of veggies...hopefully that will improve as you grow more of your own (like the purple asparagus) and had to laugh at your secret of getting the kids to eat their!

    I can't EVER forget your previous mentioned phobia of butterflies but these bugs I can relate. Hate the stinkbugs and grubs myself. I always have a bottle of water near me (death by drowning) when I come across them! And the sight of a snake will have me in hiding for days!

    Lastly, Wendy, your desire to beautiful your garden (like that huge project!) and the research you put into learning about gardening is what really impresses me!

    That front bed is looking awesome! If you're like me, every year, each bed gets larger and

    I always feel great after an accomplished day in the garden...sweatty, dirty and all! Keep it up ;)

    Let's see a pic of your sis' cute Emmy!

  6. Hi Wendy, we gardeners understand and experience the fulfillment you talk about. I wonder if your sister understands? I have quite a few friends, who are tolerant of my passion but who couldn't think of anything worse - or even dangerous - than exposing themselves to dirt, sweat and bugs like we do. The only bugs I truly hated were vine weevils which infested the garden one summer. I used to spend hours at night picking them off one by one and drowning them - same as Lynn's method. cheers, catmint

  7. We do have reasons to get down and play with dung and hoe..... Satisfying, fulfilling, soothing, relaxing.... hmmm. endless list. Our second son acquire the taste for vegetables only after he passed his teenage days... huh! You are not alone Wendy.. haha. ~bangchik

  8. Our obsession keeps us "working out" long after those who have laid down cash for gym memberships have abandoned their step classes. Ever notice how many old, fit gardeners turn up in magazine interviews? Maybe we have discovered the fountain of youth.

  9. It sounds like I am reading my own life story, from the peas and the only one at the table to the bugs,sweat and adding on to my gardens. Are you sure we weren't separated at birth? Too funny. I can't explain it either. Gardening just does it for me to spite the things I hate out there.
    ps. you forgot to mention gnats!

  10. Love this! Great explanation about why gardening takes when other things don't. I've certainly become more appreciative of both bugs and vegetables over the years. Spiders used to send me screaming. Now, as long as it isn't a cane spider, I will actually move them out of my house and into my garden. Cane spiders still send me screaming!

  11. Hi Wendy, i am late in seeing this but am fascinated. How do you call those sexy white gourds? Butter squash? I see them in Chinese stores but already old and painted supposed to be like an auspicious symbol for being healthy, forgot now how they call it. How i wish i can grow them here also, i am sure it can be grown in the tropics.

    Thank you.

  12. Hi Wendy, i am late in seeing this but am fascinated. How do you call those sexy white gourds? Butter squash? I see them in Chinese stores but already old and painted supposed to be like an auspicious symbol for being healthy, forgot now how they call it. How i wish i can grow them here also, i am sure it can be grown in the tropics.

    Thank you.

    1. Andrea - I realize I'm replaying about...3 1/2 years later... I just happened upon this post and read it again! Anyway, the squash is butternut squash. It's made up of a dryish orange flesh, a pumpkiny kind of squash. You're thinking of the Chinese bottle gourds, which fully dry and hollow out in the center. Those are the auspicious gourds and the ones people make into bird houses and such.

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