I grew up in England in the country of gardeners and allotments. Everyone seem to be doing some sort of gardening, growing flowers or vegetables. Picking raspberries at my grandmothers. Peeling peas with my grandfather. As a child, I went to school with farming children. I visited orchards and farms. I loved getting my hands into the dirt. Gardening was everywhere. It was in my thoughts, in my fingers, and I wanted more. When we finally had enough room in our garden at home to grow things, my mind went into overdrive. I had images of a small piece of ground with a nice depth of good soil and plenty of sunshine. I dreamed that I would plant vegetables, flowers, and maybe some heirloom tomatoes. I could bring fresh food to the evening meals. If I worked hard enough, perhaps I could get more ground increase the production until we bought less at the supermarket. Unfortunately, reality set in when I realized my parent’s view of my goals was slightly different than mine. Rather than the prime spot in the garden I had been eying up. I was allowed to farm a rock strewn, two square foot wasteland with no organic matter on the north side of the house. I kept up hope, I was sure I could grow something well. How hard could it be?
During my visit to the local garden center, I realized that my funds did not stretch as far as I thought they would. I had just enough pocket money for a few packets of seeds. The result was a few packets of seed for some carrots, some flowers, and courgettes (English name for zucchini). I realized that I probably wasn’t going to make a dent in our weekly food budget, but my dreams were still alive. My perseverance would overcome everything placed in my way. I carefully planted the seeds per the instructions, watered them, and waiting from the cornucopia to spring forth. Things sprouted, and my hopes soared as the shoots shot skyward. However, just like life taught me later, if you are not in the right environment, all the effort in the world will not overcome it. The flowers quickly died. The carrots succumbed to nutrient deficiency. As the season progressed, my goals became more and more realistic. Perhaps, I could make a couple of meals. Perhaps, a few bunches of flowers. Maybe a few fresh carrots to take to lunch. However, a single courgette plant kept on living. It made a single flower, and a single fruit. Everyday, I watched it grow a little more each day. All of my efforts were focused on this one entity. I started to know how James felt while looking at that single peach. My final crop was a 2 lb marrow which I hollowed out, stuffed it with mince, seasoning and rice and cooked it for the family dinner. It was one of the best things I had ever eaten.
It was also the only thing I ever grew in England. University, marriage and work took me to America. In 27 years living in the country of gardeners, I grew one marrow. One solitary fruit. A large water filled, flavorless mass. That’s it. I had a point to prove.
13 years later after my success, my life had changed dramatically. A recent widower, I found myself living in an old farm house in Pennsylvania. I was seriously depressed and doing everything I could to keep my life together. The back garden became my hope again. There was a patch of ground which the previous tenant had used for many years to grow things. This was a chance to get my hands dirty. This time there was sun, there were nutrients in the ground. There was hope. There were also groundhogs and chipmunks. Lettuce were lost. Carrots were mowed down in a single night. Corn never made it anywhere near an elephant’s eye. However, a few beets survived as did some tomatoes. I actually grew something! There was hope.
At this stage, I started to realize that growing stuff was not just about putting seeds in the ground, and voilà, you got a crop. It was about not killing the plants. Nature was out there to take your hopes and dreams and either turn them into animal’s dinner or smother them with weeds. If your seedlings survived either of those, then you probably have the wrong soil, moisture, weather or sunshine. As quickly as the seedlings sprung forth, they would wither and die. I could relate to this… I was English.