Pinecones & Woodsmoke
The Garden Gospel
Lynda K. Bundrant-Taylor
Starting a vegetable garden is a marriage of high-stakes poker, ardent independence and possibly incurable passion. The gamble of weather and new seed packets, the free food that (at times) makes you certain you could feed a Civil War battalion, and the yearning need to shove your hands in dirt and stay out weeding after sunset are all well known to those of us who grow our own french fries. I am one of these people. Hand me some poker-chips and call a therapist, folks: I am a gardener, and it cannot be helped.
You start out one year with the idea that you can grow a little food. You don't have anything extreme in mind: a modest bed of tomatoes and maybe some herbs for your pasta. So you plant a few varieties of heirloom reds and a few months later----biting into one of these girls you pulled right off the vine----you realize that the taste is something you can't believe was the work of your own hands. The basil makes the back steps smell like a Tuscan countryside. When you need some onions, you just pull them out of the ground. Suddenly, it hits you. Not only does this gardening business taste good, it's also making dinner a lot easier to plan and your grocery bills fewer and farther between. It works and your hooked. You decide next season to make some modest improvements. You'll add another raised bed because you heard stuffed zucchini was to die for and you want to grow your own pumpkins for Halloween. You close your eyes and remember the hayrides to the pumpkin patches of your childhood and how great it was to pick your own jack-o'-lantern from a farmer's field. Okay, two beds. See where this is going?
Little changes start to happen, things normal people barely notice. Only your closest friends may start to see the unapologetic potting-soil stains under your fingernails at a dinner party, or the shopping bag from the local nursery in the corner of your kitchen when they're visiting for a cup of coffee. You start getting seed catalogs in the mail and your borrowing history at the local library shows a suspicious number of agriculture books. You start setting aside an old pair of jeans for sod breaking.
Then the real addiction kicks in. A few years down the road, your basement has been converted into a nursery and the above ground swimming pool bulldozed for more raised beds and a few grapevines. You've hired a carpenter to build a series of containers to grow more strawberries and there are messages on your answering machine from orchards, seed savers and the people from your vegetable-gardening meet-up group. Suddenly, you know famous gardeners by name and can even drop a few in conversations.
Then, late one July day, you're in the grocery store checkout line and notice the women behind you looking closely at your basket. Meat, eggs, milk, flour, bananas, pectin, pickling spices, vinegar, sugar and three boxes of Mason jars. "You're a gardener, too, huh?" she asks. You nod, smiling. And you see the same collage of ingredients and supplies in her cart, all produce lacking, because there's a good chance she has that section of the grocery store in her backyard, too. You get chatting and find she has the tomato variety you read about in last's month's issue of Mother Earth News and you have those white pumpkins she's been coveting. Friendship is struck, phone numbers exchanged and the nice people with plastic bags full of trucked-in vegetables are none the wiser.
And the big change comes. One day over breakfast, you look across the table at your spouse. You kind of cough to clear your throat before asking, ever so casually, "Hey, honey, what do you think about getting a place in the country?"