Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why Make A Garden...For Free?

A perfectly delightful little patch of urban heaven.
When I talk about gardening, I tend to use the countrified term, "making a garden," instead of using what I was taught was the more citified way of speaking, "planting a garden." I talk in the old-fashioned vernacular on purpose, and I do it for the same reason I still haven't expunged the word, "ain't", from my vocabulary. Using "make" for "plant" is just one more example of how gardening connects me to my roots in the country. And if I didn't continue to use that language--e.g. I ain't makin' a garden for nothing--or perform certain acts, which could only in certain ways be called sacramental, like continuing to use a double-edge razor like my father used to feel connected to him, I would be, in the words of Malcolm X, metaphorically cutting out my own tongue.

So I ask the question, Why would you make a garden for free? Why would you make a garden on a piece of property that wasn't yours, paying for it in quite a few hundred hard dollars and hours of sweat equity? I kept asking myself those questions as Sue and I worked the little plot of ground in front of the house where we rent in Quincy, Massachusetts, when the landlord and his brother won't even stoop to pull a weed. Am I some kind of chump? And, just like a lot of other answers I've stumbled upon, it came to me while I was sweating and chopping and bent over, my back aching, while planting because gardening for me is meditation and yoga combined.

Bottom line: I was raised to believe that every person in the world should accept an opportunity presented to them to make the world a better place. See, just like everything, it goes back to my southern/Midwestern roots. Sometimes making the world better means simply smiling at someone on the subway who clearly is having a bad day. How hard is it to smile? It might mean handing out your last dollar to a homeless person. But sometimes it gets a lot harder, and I'm not saying making a garden is the ultimate sacrifice. On the scale of smiling on the subway being at one end and giving someone a kidney being on the other end, I'd say a garden is still pretty low on the continuum. But in this age when giving a "like" and a "share" on Facebook now seem to be the benchmark for social activism (click a button and keep scrolling; you've done your part) getting your hands dirty amounts to some serious responsible behavior. However, in all honesty, if I had known how much money it would take--upwards of $400 plus--to complete this project, I might have balked. Still, I was aware this wasn't going to come cheap, and I still went ahead with it.

And there it was: Sue and I were presented with the opportunity to make the house where we live a little more pleasant for all of the people who live here, and also, let's not forget, the people who would pass by on the way to and from work. They could use a little cheering up, too. It's not that we felt we didn't have the option to say, no; it was more seeing a job that needed getting done, and we were the only ones who could (or would) do it. I think we understood the possibility better than some.

"To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--that is to have succeeded."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our landlords, John and Steve, know nothing about growing plants. The proverbial green thumb? In their cases, they don't even have thumbs, much less thumbs of another color. They couldn't tell crabgrass from pachysandra, and honestly, they don't want to know. They watched with amazement as their weed patch of a front yard turned into what I would call a perfectly delightful little patch of urban heaven. For me, it was like being a cook and watching people enjoy a meal. I took delight in their delight.

 People who we didn't know, people who we've seen but never spoken to, would stop and comment and chat as we worked. It seems the front yard project became something of a topic of conversation for the neighborhood. I'll be watching, said one woman, an Asian who's first language wasn't English, meaning she'll be looking forward to what grows. A neighbor across the street, the wife in an older couple who have a pristine, Chem-Lawn lawn, actually flagged me down and stopped me while I was driving to compliment us on the front yard. In truth, the yard was a bit of a blight on the neighborhood, and I think there is a collective feeling of ownership, not only when something isn't looking good, but also when things are looking up.

And, of course, there were quite a few people who, when they learned we didn't own the house and no, we weren't getting reimbursed for the materials and labor, looked at us oddly and sometimes teased us and sometimes downright belittled us. Well, I hope your landlord appreciates you, said one, in a tone that suggested she never believed our landlord would appreciate us and we were simpletons to believe that he would. The answer that we were simply making the world a better place was, at times, greeted with  bemusement, in the way idealistic hippies were addressed for believing there could be peace in the world. Ours is a transactional world, and quid pro quo is expected.

So, there is a 15 x 15 foot plot of ground in Quincy, Massachusetts that is a little better today than it was yesterday. And I think there are a few people who are also. At the risk of sounding like the idealistic hippie that I once was and probably still am, if everyone in the world took 225 square feet and improved it, well, that would go a long way in making the world better for all of us.

The day after a storm. We have two full rain barrels. A barrel of water doesn't last that long during a hot summer. Let's keep praying for rain.

Coincidentally, irises were both Sue's and my father's favorite flowers, so for a few of our past anniversaries I've been giving Sue irises for the garden. See how a garden can reach back to your family's roots and make your life so much richer?

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