Gardening is more than fun. It is hilarious. In fact, one time our family owned bragging rights to the tallest asparagus stalk in town. It grew to a height of about five feet, and we treated it like a friend, one who was welcome to live on in what used to be a large garden in the backyard of the home we purchased.
I was born and raised in a mining town in North-Western Quebec, 500 miles from Montreal. The only garden produce any of our neighbors grew there was rocks, hidden by a wild variety of weeds. Consequently, any small patch of grass was for tramping on, not carving out a garden patch.
Moving to the city of Sarnia, in southern Ontario meant, for the first time I would have a garden, one of many dreams I hoped to fulfill. Folks could not believe I had never grown a flower, let alone vegetables. My learning began in earnest. Thankfully my wife, Esther was not only kind but wise. She was born on a farm in New Brunswick and allowed me the opportunity to learn about black stuff that clings to the underside of your fingernails.
Troy, our youngest, volunteered to help dad with his very first garden. Together we were prepared to surprise mom with our bountiful supply. April came quickly and we couldn't wait to get cracking, setting aside more pressing chores. The lady before us had turned her whole lawn into a garden, before age slowed her steps. She turned it back into a lawn, but confided, "Don't be surprised if some vegetables still pop up once in a while."
We lovingly selected a section of the lawn and dug into our first patch of grass.
Shovels moved in unison, weeds quickly extricated, and our ten-foot square garden was quickly pummeled into submission. After smoothing the surface, we scraped loose soil into rows resembling long lines of putty, about three inches high. In order to grow the maximum amount of vegetables we decided on having ten rows about five inches apart. After running fingers through their centers, we were ready to sprinkle seed into the depressions. I could see my wife, looking through the window. Why was she smiling?
Troy opened the first bag of seeds and passed them to me. So tiny I thought, never having seen one before. As I contemplated the production of one huge carrot from these pepper specs, the wind blew them off his hand.
Each of the following bags were lovingly opened and caressed carefully into the soil. We carefully brushed the soil over seed; some fell in clumps of half a dozen, others were spaced anywhere from two to six inches apart. For some reason the specs kept sticking to our hands and fingers. Some had to be blown off, and ended up somewhere outside our marked off area.
We had to hurry, since it began to snow. "What? In April?" I wondered aloud. I could see my wife having a good belly laugh, especially when she later confided early July is the best time to plant the garden; like us they like warmth. That day, I couldn't blame them.
The joy of a father-son adventure introduced us to the aggressiveness of weeds. After proper coaching from my patient wife, we replanted then counted the days until produce protruded shyly from their long lines of earth. However further growth caused confusion as we could barely discern what was vegetable and what was this mysterious growth wrapped around my beet shoots. Whatever I nibbled on didn't taste quite right.
Experience is a good teacher, and my next season gave me incentive to put more space between my rows. This time our family garden was expanded to ensure weeds could be easily distinguished. Therefore rows were placed three feet apart, making it just right to run my lawnmower between the forthcoming rows of vegetables. No more confusion, no more bending down and wrestling with the out of control growth for me.
It was annoying watching Troy running through the patch, lawnmower flinging weeds right and left. I had to sneak home earlier than usual a few times to beat him to the belching-smoke machine. Yes indeed, this was much easier on the knees. However, a new challenge attached itself to our family, a situation requiring our protection. During this second summer an asparagus shoot pushed higher and higher above the lawn, from which the old garden once grew. Before the end of summer, it had grown five feet.
Friends came over to take pictures, and neighborhood children cautioned against snapping it off and using it for a sword, or spear. Eventually it dried up and fell over.
My wife suggested proper watering to get the best out of our small garden. Vegetables galore were an eye opener to someone only seeing fruitful gardens in magazines. Our family watched potato leaves grow from underground, pickles came from cucumbers and raisins were nothing more than dried up grapes, was revealing. For someone like myself, gardening was a family affair. Rather than teach others, I was the student.
But, our children were more interested in flinging one of our corncobs at each other or scooting off with the luscious tomato I wished to use sliced between two pieces of toast.
Years pass, and children grow up into their own careers. Even though we were drawn into other places, apart only through distance, I can still see them, helping in the garden.
Our daughter joyfully ran fingers through the rich soil, inhabited by squirming night crawlers, and my son revving up the lawnmower. Except now, his own garden allows him to race between rows of planted vegetables, hubris flying in all directions, his great big belly laugh reaching all the way to my ears.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2007
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.