I’ve been living in the country for 8 years now. For the first two years, I lived with my partner, Zintis, an accomplished and passionate organic gardener. I loved the fruits of his labor, but try as I might, I never shared the passion for that labor. Then I moved out on my own, onto 18 acres that cried out for a garden. But for years, I never planted one — and harbored subtle pangs of guilt. I was living in the country, for heavens sake. Living here and not having a garden is kind of like living in Manhattan and never going to the theater. Never going to the theater? Practically heresy. You’re living in New York City for chrissakes! If you live in New York and don’t partake of culture, you might as well be living in Des Moines. And if you live here and don’t have a garden, you might as well be living in, well, Manhattan.
Almost all of my friends reveled in their gardens, tilling, planting, weeding and sowing. Springtime dinner conversations would be filled with gardening plans and sharing tips for the best early season tomatoes, a new heirloom carrot or beet variety to be tried, or the secrets of actually growing an edible melon. Throughout the summer, friends would harvest fresh whatever to whip up a home grown country repast.
This year, my guilt got the better of me and I decided to take the plunge and plant a garden. I cleared a 15 foot square patch, hauled out all the rocks, hauled in manure and surrounded the sacred growing space with deer fence. Armed with a list prepared by my good friend Joe, I headed off to the holy grail of heirloom seedlings, Silver Heights Farm, to buy my precious seedlings. I planted them, watered them, and waited. I was so excited. I was growing my own.
But all those heirloom vegetable missionaries don’t talk a lot about the downside. The little mites that eat through the basil leaves until they look like bits of lacy green underwear at Victoria’s Secret. The advancing armies of slugs that delight in the newborn tomatoes. The critters that burrow under the fence to nosh on the baby greens. And the weeds! The never ending battle between man and weed!
Gardening, it turns out, is work. Now some may view that work as a pleasure — being in the outdoors pulling those weeds and scattering those slugs. But those folks have different DNA than I do. When I want to enjoy the outdoors, I’d rather go for a walk or a swim.
Last Sunday I stopped by the Farmers Market in Callicoon. The booths were laden with beautiful produce. Big juicy slug-less tomatoes. Hefty clumps of basil and arugula (without any holes!) Squashes and carrots and beets. Oh my! These folks know how to do it. After all, they do it for a living!
Sunday evening I sat down to a delicious, harvest-fresh dinner of fresh basil pesto, tomatoes with basil and mozzarella and fresh sweet corn. I didn’t pick any of it from my garden, or more accurately, garden-attempt. But it sure tasted darn good.
I certainly appreciate my friends’ zeal for gardening. And I sure appreciate the results. But this "guilty gardener" may finally throw in the towel, and leave it to the professionals and the passionistas. I know what I’m good at, and gardening isn’t one of the skills in my plus column.
I’m just one of those folks with a black thumb. I gave it the college try, but it just isn’t in my DNA. I can now live in the country, guilt free, and buy my tomatoes from Heller, who does a much better job growing them than I do.