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Gardening in the Rain

Tomato Garden

Gardening in the Rain

This afternoon, as I drove home from running errands, rain started falling. I did a few things and then saw that our kitchen compost jar needed emptying into the (wait for it) compost bin in the back yard. I did the deed, and, walking back to the house, noticed weeds and vines growing up through the forsythia, ivy, and azaleas. I had weeded the back yard about a month ago, but for me, any household task is a case of out of sight, out of mind, which is to say that I need visual reminders of what I’m supposed to do. Taking the compost out meant that I had to pass by the shrubs and their attendant weeds.

Now, the back yard didn’t look like something out of Charles Addams—there weren’t that many outlaw plants, and it only took about half an hour to either pull or cut the interlopers out. By the time I started weeding, the rain intensified, and I found myself pulling weeds in the rain.

I had to smile at this, because my mother used to do this. The harder the downpour, the happier she was, out in her gardens with no rain gear on, hopping from row to row, pulling weeds and cleaning up.

I thought she was nuts. She tried to explain to me that it was easier to pull weeds in the rain, and if you needed to wash something off, you just held it out.

“Mooooom!” I exclaimed. “If the neighbors see you outside gardening in the rain, they’ll think you’re crazy. And you won’t wear anything so you’re getting soaking wet.”

She sat down. “Maybe I am crazy. And when you go out in the rain, you get wet. I thought you knew that by now.”

I gave up trying to dissuade her from this practice. She was an incredible gardener, growing plants that experts said couldn’t be grown here. She gave away much of what she grew, flowers and fruits and vegetables. She and my dad did have a small vegetable table beside the road, and people who drove by came to be their friends. I suppose you could call that vegetable diplomacy.

She told me more than once when it was evident I had no interest in gardening (too much work, too much weather) “I always thought of the two of you (I have a younger brother) you would be my gardener.” I could hear the disappointment in her tone as she finished, “I guess I was wrong.”

She passed away seven years ago this October, and it wasn’t until this year that I felt the urge to garden. I had given up yard maintenance to our nephew Jonathan who runs his own lawn service, and only did what was absolutely necessary to keep our property from being condemned by the city.

My father got me started on my path to becoming a gardener. He was trying to raise tomatoes and corn in his apartment. The corn died, and the tomatoes were about to. “Would you like to have the tomatoes to grow at your place?” To tell the truth, I only took the plastic growing bin with its poor pitiful specimens of plantdom to reduce the clutter at his place. I put the green plastic box with its freight of dirt and incipient sprouts and put it on the deck. It did well. At least, it did better than it did in the apartment.

The tomatoes grew, as tomatoes do if conditions are right, until the box was no longer big enough to hold them. I thought I needed to put in a tomato bed, although some gardeners have success with “container gardening.” It look to me as if my gardening were growing out of my container. The plants were supposed to be eight inches to a foot apart. The bin was about 30 inches long and 12 wide, so its load of 20 plants was about 14 too many, according to my calculations.

So I built my tomato bed out of some 4×4’s left over from a fencing project. I had my first tiny red tomato a couple of days ago, and I was thrilled. I supposed I have been bitten by the gardening bug.

It’s odd what we learn in spite of ourselves. When I was younger and living at home, I basically didn’t want to do anything but read, eat, sleep and play my guitar. I certainly didn’t want to help my dad with the thousand and one tasks it takes to keep a farm going. I was forced to help sometimes, and he kept after me. My mom got tired of hearing me whine about having to pick beans or weed corn. I told her it was too hot, it was too humid, and insects bothered me. After a few minutes of my complaining she told me to go back into the house and read or whatever.

In the past few years, I have come to realize how much I learned from my dad about fixing things in spite of my reluctance to be around work. And I apparently picked up some gardening knowledge from my mom in spite of my limited exposure to growing things.

And that is why I had to smile when I thought of my mom gardening in the rain. At times, it almost looked like she was dancing along the rows, with a rhythm, sense of purpose and, well, joy at doing what she loved doing most. As for me, I didn’t dance in the rain as I weeded this afternoon, but I’ll get there. You can count on it.

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