Every time we move to a new house, one of the first things I do is assess the yard for its potential as a garden. Not that I always have a productive garden – on the contrary – this is what my garden currently looks like…
At one point in time I would have beaten myself up over such a sorry effort (or lack thereof). Every time I walked through the courtyard I would have noticed the planter, been disgusted by its unsightly presentation (and utter lack of productivity) and added it to my never-ending lists of things to do and self-perceived inadequacies.
I was an ag major for goodness sake. Permaculture is my love language. If I don’t pass along what I learned in my mother’s garden, how will my kids ever come to appreciate their food source?
I realize that not everyone is able or cares to dig in the dirt. It’s just one of those things for me. Replace gardening with whatever passion you currently have stewing on your back burner (that might feed you if it weren’t burning a giant hole of guilt into your conscience). How is it that we manage to turn even our passions into self-punishment?
My great-grandmother turns 100 this month. Still in great health, she lives by herself in the same north-Texas home I visited as a child. Until recently, she kept a garden that took up most of her backyard.
My cousin and I were reflecting on her stories, her sassy, southern sweetness and her tidy little home. With the most genuine far-away gaze she declared, “Oh, Mema’s garden was SO beautiful. I loved being there when I was little.”
“SO beautiful.” Have you ever been to north Texas? Mema’s garden was a small plowed field of thirsty dirt, sun-scorched foliage and a handful of tolerant veggies – reluctantly alive though thoroughly unamused.
The thing is, I always found it beautiful, too.
Young children don’t see things in terms of perfection – and they certainly don’t think very far beyond the moment – making them amazing teachers in the art of appreciating what we have and being content in the now.
So when I noticed Estella playing in our planter a few weeks ago, I decided to follow her lead. I found a couple of shovels, I asked if she wanted to garden with me and we got to work. We had no seeds, we added no compost and we hadn’t drawn out any elaborate permacultural renderings. Our plan? To clear out last year’s hail-beaten elephant ears, water the remaining tubers and wait a few days.
My girl was beside herself. She dug like nobody’s business. We found earthworms, treasures (old bits of glass and metal), and a few persistent perennials from last year’s attempt to grow vegetables (before we realized just how die-hard elephant ears are). We examined the inside of stalks, we had a parade-of-two with our giant leaves as flags and paused for a particularly delicious glass of water midway through our work (Estella noted its deliciousness).
Every day since, she’s been out there carefully watering each emerging sprout – not with some fancy, galvanized, child-sized 30-dollar watering can, but a yogurt container she found in the recycling pile. We have no castle-like, child-safe step stool for her to reach the water, she just drags over a chair and has learned how not to tip it. She counts the sprouting “babies” in both English and Spanish, she lined the planter wall with sea shells from her sister’s week at the beach, and recently learned that chickens find elephant ears to be quite irresistible. And so it seems, this tiny piece of dirt is no better or worse than the most beautiful, manicured gardens in her eyes. It’s ours and that’s enough.
One day I will have a productive vegetable garden again. But for now, my kids are learning to appreciate their food source in other ways. By interacting with the farmers and cheese makers and butchers at the open-air market where we shop.
By observing the women and children with bundles of produce or babies on their backs walking in from the hills to earn their day’s pesos.
And by helping me cook nearly every meal because we’ve slowed our pace.
For all we don’t have, I now celebrate. It just means more time to enjoy our previously-obscured abundance.
About Beth Berry
Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she's not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.