In the early days of summer I embarked on an ambitious crusade to turn my polished white office hands into soiled working hands anchored by green thumbs —to nourish my family with earthly delights from the soil. My friend Johnny Gallo had inspired me to take the leap and put seed to soil and I gratefully dedicated a column to him at the outset of the experiment. I neatly carved an organic vegetable garden into my otherwise manicured lawn, lovingly seeded it and dutifully tended to it over the past couple of months.
As it happens, some organic birds ravaged my organic corn. (First note to self: next year—scarecrows.) Press Content Director Michael Martino warned me in advance that anything Italian takes over everything planted near it, but I didn’t listen. True to form, the tomatoes wound up exerting considerable influence over the rest of the garden, with hulking stalks looming high above the stakes that had long ago given up hope of holding them. The tomato plants rose to shade the onions and the peas, stealing precious nutrients from the ground and sky, condemning them to short, shriveled lives. (Second note to self: Onions and peas require sun.)
At the far end of the garden the strawberries held promise early on. As the season wore on, however, the marigolds—which were planted to provide a natural defense—grew taller than my children, barricaded the entire area and halted any further growth of my fledgling berries. While Johnny Gallo had the first ceremonial strawberry from the garden, it would prove to be one of the last. (Third note: It appears that strawberries require sun.)
I have also managed to grow the stoutest carrots ever seen. (Final note: Turn the soil more next year so they grow vertical instead of horizontal.)
My ambitious experiment largely failed where diversity is concerned, but I have some unbelievable tomatoes. Despite the tenuous weather circumstances that rendered many tomato gardens hopeless across Long Island, mine somehow thrived, albeit to the detriment of several of the other species. The marigolds, which launched a late summer offensive, ended in a standoff like the Sharks and the Jets against the tomato plants.
Nearly everything on our family dinner table has tomatoes in it, and every surface is adorned with marigolds. Regardless, there were several life lessons along the way.
Our kids watched with delight as the garden grew and enjoyed participating in the harvesting rituals—eating cherry tomatoes right from the vine, shaking our fists at the fattened birds nearby, and picking flowers for the table. Not to mention they think I’m a gardening genius and don’t yet read this column, so we’ll leave it at that.
We were religious about composting, and brewed some dirt in a backyard tumbler that Charles Vigliotti himself would approve of. As a result, we noticeably cut down on household waste. There is also an undeniable satisfaction derived from tasting food that travels dozens of feet to the table instead of thousands of miles. Nothing connects you to food like growing it. I get it now. Gardening gives you a higher consciousness about eating and an understanding of what food should really be like. Every generation is slightly more removed from the food supply and it has become a dangerous thing.
I have read hundreds of “the garden as metaphor” statements and now understand more deeply the meaning behind them.
Patience. Love. Nourishment.
We need these things to grow as individuals and as a people. At the end of the day, tending to this garden was never about the food; it was always about family. It was one more thing we could do together that didn’t require a plug-in, download or broadband connection.
It was a great summer. Naturally.