I started growing a garden specifically for tomatoes. I am a hopeless tomato addict. I love them raw, on a sandwich, in a salad, cooked in stews and soups, sliced thin and served with a vinaigrette. There is just no wrong way to eat a good tomato. But my favorite way to eat a tomato is on a tomato sandwich. No frills, white bread (forgive me), mayo, sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper. Oh, JOY! You can add a piece of good cheese if you need to gild the lily, but the foregoing is all you really need for true perfection.
From tomatoes, I graduated to peppers and from there to squash and cucumbers. After we built our cabin in the country (rural Kentucky), I started thinking about trees and bushes and flowers and then it was a full blown obsession. We have magnolia trees, redbuds, cypress trees, lilac bushes, blueberries, rose of Sharon, and thanks to another old gardening buddy, we have recently added bulb plants. Irises, tulips, tiger lilies—you name it, we got it!
In the garden you learn the secrets of the universe. You learn that plants and people are not so different. We can both get by on the meagerest of materials, but do our best growing when someone tends us with great attention. Both plants and people need the light and water. Both plants and people have natural allies and natural enemies. Both plants and people are beautiful in the eye of the beholder. One man’s weed is another man’s orchid. But perhaps the greatest similarity between us is the fact that we start out tiny and helpless and grow into muscular beings that can take much more than you would have ever guessed. And the fruits we produce will be greatly dependent on how much someone believes in us and allows us to thrive in an atmosphere of freedom.
My grandmother Ruth used to run what can only be described as a plant hospital—nothing official, mind you—but my mother and aunts and neighbors would bring her plants that they had unwittingly basically killed and she would bring them back to life! She was a plant “resurrectionist!” When I started teaching, I found I had the same talent with small humans. I could see the potential that other teachers either could not see or refused to look for. I eventually began to think of myself as a “small human resurrectionist.“ I found myself taking in students who had been told that they were untalented, undisciplined, and unworthy, and did my best to turn them into thriving, growing, glowing little enthusiasm engines. I don’t know if my grandmother’s horticultural skills had anything to do with my teaching abilities, but I’d like to think that they are related.
Now, after teaching for over 30 years, I have turned to the garden. I’m not done teaching, but I’m ready to test the universality of my theory. That plants and people are very much alike, and that care and love can create life and beauty in things that look as though they might have died only days ago. Peace, people.