Back in February, before COVID-19 had blown up into a worldwide pandemic, I was already anticipating an early spring harvest of lettuce and spinach, planted at the end of an unusually mild and relatively dry January. My raised beds and a homemade “greenhouse” fashioned over them with PVC pipe and heavy-duty plastic drop cloths created a sheltered environment that encouraged lush growth in spite of chilly nights. By the time the middle of March rolled around and Oregon’s governor enacted stay-at-home orders as the virus spread and infection rates climbed, my salad greens were ready for harvest. Thankful to have one less reason to venture to the grocery store, I planted carrots and sugar peas and the next wave of lettuce and spinach to add to our larder.
I have gardened (both edibles and ornamental flower beds) for decades, my green thumb sprouting from both sides of my family tree. My maternal grandmother lovingly tended roses, astilbe and peonies in her small, neat yard, and I loved to follow her around, learning all the names while I gathered flowers for bouquets. All the gardens I’ve planted as an adult have hosted those same flowers, providing me a garden of blooms and memories.
My dad grew up on Long Island, New York, and relatives there made their living off a truck farm, selling produce to city dwellers. Transplanted to Oregon and making his living as a lawyer, he tended a large garden, full of vegetables and berries and fruit trees, behind our house. I know it was a budget-serving measure to help feed seven growing kids, but I also know it provided him relief from stress and workday cares. He’d arrive home from work, shuck his briefcase and suit, don a stained pair of khakis and an old chambray shirt, lace up his dirt-clogged work boots and head out to the garden. There he’d spend time before dinner and it grew too dark to see, checking the rows of corn and beans, staking up tomato plants and mulching around the rhubarb.
We kids were responsible for watering, weeding and harvesting, about which we often grumbled when we’d rather be off playing. Picking was not such a horrible chore, though, when the raspberries were ripe or the peaches and nectarines could be plucked warm from the trees, seeping rivulets of sticky juice down our arms as we sunk our teeth into their sweet flesh. The garden was a place of hot, dirty work, but it was also a place of fun and imagination as we built dams of dirt to hold back water from the hoses, played hide and seek among the corn stalks and climbed the trees.
This is a long way of saying that I learned a long time ago what a lot of people have just started discovering over the past six months: Gardens provide beauty and sustenance, but in a time of uncertainty and worry they also provide a soothing balm to a troubled mind. Folks staying at home with time on their hands have taken up gardening, whether in pots on a small balcony or patio or in a neglected space in the yard. They’ve discovered the joy of nurturing a plant from seed to harvest and the calm that comes with completing simple tasks of pruning, weeding and watering.
Here in the middle of July we are still struggling with how to live with and through the virus, but my garden provides a welcome distraction as I try to keep up with both the weeds and the zucchini. (Some things never change . . . and there is comfort in that, too.) There is such anticipation for those first ripe tomatoes, but soon enough I’ll be trying to figure out what to do with all of them and hoping the neighbors will take some off my hands.
And there is great satisfaction in a bumper crop of blueberries, enough to munch while picking and still enough to sprinkle in pancakes or make a cake or pie. Time spirals, and as my grandsons follow me around my yard, picking flowers and berries, I’m a child again, cutting flowers with my Granny and eating berries with my sisters. I know hard times have come before, and I see that we will travel beyond our current trials. This garden provides food, beauty, comfort, perspective. So many gifts!
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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