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Faith in Vermont: Garden Guilt

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Posted on April 30, 2019 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Please, don’t tell me that you’ve spent all day working out in the garden. 

I see you, anyway: out in your yards, industriously raking leaves out of your garden beds, shoveling mulch, setting up your floating row covers. 

I see you out my minivan window as I’m driving my daughters to piano, or theater, or a friend’s house, or Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run, indeed. 

Those are my weekday afternoons. 

And I’m not quite sure how this happened, but it appears that every single weekend between now and June is booked up with something: a Library Board retreat, a trip to see family, some sort of culturally enriching experience. Unless it’s raining; those days, I’m free. 

Speaking of rain, this month seems to be taking the concept of “April showers” to an extreme. Only our ducks are happy. 

Please, don’t tell me that you’ve already planted your kale.

I’ll have you know that I had a plan. I ordered my seeds from Fedco at the end of February. I drew out my garden plan. I made a list of what to plant, where, and when. I even started my tomatoes, marigolds, and melons inside, on a table by my south-facing bedroom window. They sprouted, and everything was going well until someone left the door open and our kitten got in and decided to chew on my seedlings. By the time I discovered him, half of the plants were ruined. 

“Have you forgiven the kitten yet, Mommy?” my daughters ask every morning. 

I’m getting there. I replanted seeds to replace what was lost, and moved the whole setup to a room where the door remains closed. If nothing else, I suppose the cat bought me time. 

Other things have also bought me time this year. The chickens, for example. 

Our younger chickens have discovered that they can fly over the gates of our fruit and vegetable gardens, where they luxuriate in taking dust baths and scratching for bugs until the soil is as cratered as the moon. My husband promised to add some wire to the top of our garden gates in order to deter the chickens from flying over, but what with a full-time day job -- and all the rain -- he hasn’t gotten around to it. I can’t reasonably be expected to plant seeds that will just be scratched up or rolled on, can I? I guess I’ll just have to wait.

Then there’s the house re-siding project. 

Ever since we moved into our house, we knew that we’d have to get it re-sided sooner rather than later. The current siding, which is a hodge-podge of vinyl and wood, wasn’t installed correctly, and water is getting underneath. This, we’ve decided, will be the summer of re-siding. While we’re at it, we’re going to insulate the half of the house that was somehow overlooked.

When our contractor came by with the man from the excavation company, they walked with me along the front of our house. They pointed out the bulbs that I planted alongside the house – or what’s left of that border after the chickens and rabbits have done their work. Last summer, out of a combination of laziness and busy-ness, I neglected to mulch this flower border, and the weeds took full advantage of my negligence. I’ve been anticipating this summer’s battle with dread.

But our contractor and the excavator guy pointed to my sorry flower border and shook their heads. 

“Don’t even bother with that this year,” they said. “It’s all going to get trampled on and dug up, anyway.”

“Oh, okay,” I said, trying to look disappointed instead of relieved.

Tomorrow, the forecast looks clear for the first time in days and the last time for days to come. It’s the perfect opportunity to spread compost on the garden beds, muck out the poultry coops, maybe even bring in a truckload of mulch. But I find myself creating excuses: there will be lunch to fix and dishes to do, laundry to fold, bathrooms to clean.  

Why is it so hard to get started? 

Upon reflection, I think the answer is: fear. The deepest part of me is afraid that I’ll fail at gardening this year. That the seeds won’t sprout, or that I won’t be able to protect the sprouts from the cat or the chickens, or that I won’t be able to stay on top of the weeds. I’m afraid of taking on the responsibility for living things that I won’t be able to keep alive.

I remind myself that I signed up for this; that the reason we moved to this house was in order to raise and grow more of our own food, to care for a patch of earth, to give our daughters the experience of tending plants and animals. And once I do get out into the garden, I love every bit of it. 

By mid-summer every year, when I look out over our garden, some plants have flourished and some haven’t. But at that point, I take no credit for the successes. The truth is, those little seeds just really want to live. I introduce them to water, soil, and sunshine; then I step back and watch the miracle unfold. 

And I figure, if I don’t feel directly responsible for most of the glory of their life, then I can probably let go of most of the guilt for their death. All I can do is show up with water, soil, and access to sunshine; the rest is out of my control.

Even knowing all this, though, it’s hard to get started. So please, don’t tell me that you’ve spent all day working out in the garden.

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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