The Rabbit Restaurant

And Other Gardening Secrets from My Daughter
By Deborah LiBrandi
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rabbit eating garden plant

Growing up, the outdoors was a place of abundance and beauty. I was raised in rural Ohio on nearly four acres of land that included 28 apple trees, a blackberry patch, grape vines and a large vegetable garden planted and tended to every summer by my family and me. We grew corn, beans, tomatoes, broccoli and sunflowers. When I was hungry, I climbed my apple tree and picked an apple. If it was late summer, I would eat a fresh, warm tomato straight from the vine. I didn’t have to wash off pesticides and I didn’t think about anything other than the food, the summer sun and being in my yard.

Thirty years later with children of my own, I still love the outdoors and gardening. I don’t have as large of a yard (just under one acre), but each spring I bound outdoors with the same enthusiasm of my youth to plant tomatoes, herbs, new perennials and annuals. I feel best in my old overalls and gardening gloves, worn with the love and hard work of spring plantings. My oldest daughter Sophie also delights in this ritual and enjoys the time spent with her hands dug deeply in the dirt, seeking out worms and helping me mound the earth over our newly planted beds.

The only difference between Sophie and me when it comes to gardening is that she enjoys it when animals eat our plants. To her, the rabbits, chipmunks and occasional groundhog that frequent our yard are great friends. And, the fact that we kindly provide them with food on a regular basis is fantastic.

While my father loved the outdoors and gardening, I learned at a young age that the plants and vegetables we grew were for us, not for our animal friends. He put up fences and even set traps some summers, to ensure that the fruits of our labor were truly ours and not lost to the late night feedings of neighborhood wildlife.

So as I grew, this became my outlook. I enjoyed looking at the cute rabbit in the yard, but he better stay away from my plants!

As it is for most parents, my children, and their perspective on the everyday, impacted my view of the world and the simple things in it. And so it has been with my gardens and the animals who also call my backyard home.

The first time Sophie saw a rabbit eating the broccoli we planted only one day earlier, she was thrilled. “Look, mommy. He loves broccoli! We have a rabbit restaurant!” Meanwhile, her words echoing faintly in my ears, I had a parallel dialogue with myself that went something like, “I can’t believe that @##*! rabbit is eating the broccoli I just planted. Sophie will be so disappointed!”

Stopped short in my own thoughts by her enthusiasm for what I viewed as a real problem, I took a breath and asked myself how bad it really was in the scheme of life to have a small rabbit eating our broccoli. I realized not really that bad. And, with each morning that I looked into my yard and noticed another plant or vegetable that had been taken down to only a stem, I took a deep breath, exhaled and comforted myself in the fact that my daughter would be extremely pleased. After all, if we don’t plant things for others to eat them, why do it?

Now weeks later as the summer has progressed to its height, we still have rabbits. We also have chipmunks and a groundhog that visits every week or so and takes many of my flowers down to a meager existence of their former selves. But, I have made peace with this. I have accepted that I have broccoli stalks that will never produce broccoli. In fact, I have grown to experience a warmth in looking out my back door and seeing the animals run and then stop for a rest in our little piece of this world.

I realized through my daughter and her eagerness to share our abundance that gardening is one of the truest metaphors for a thoughtful life. There really is enough for everyone. We should share what we have. Things grow, things die, and then they grow again. Even when things look damaged beyond repair, life renews itself. When we tend to something, it flourishes.

Digging in the dirt connects me both to my childhood and to the earth more directly than almost anything else. I hope that my children develop that same relationship with planting and tending to a garden. The simplicity of fresh food, the color of bright green leaves against the dark, rich dirt and the smell of the soil as you turn it to add a new plant bring a sense of order and concreteness to my busy world. In addition to the many, many things I hope for my children, one of them is certainly that the earth and its many gifts will sustain them. I hope that gardening will bring them peace and the satisfaction of creating something beautiful. I hope that their children will one day peer at small plants and see the possibility of new life and growth before them, and that they will embrace it, pick up a shovel and create their own green, gracious space.

Deborah LiBrandi is a freelance writer living in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, Bryan and two daughters, Sophie and Sara. She also lives with many rabbits, chipmunks and other creatures. She can be reached at blibrandi@who.rr.com

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