Gardening makes the man

We had our first fight about the garden the other day. Well, not a fight exactly, but there were words.

There we were, in the kitchen looking into the backyard, out at that gorgeous square of rich soil and the possibilities of the good earth.

She looked out there and sighed. Perhaps she saw well-meaning but broken oaths that had taken seed and grown wild and ugly. But I looked out and fell in love again, like I do every year.

Because this is what I could see: Rows of tomatoes trained on single disciplined vines, trimmed and pruned of suckers, so the plants will not be top-heavy but strong, and bearing huge, red, meaty fruit.


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And cucumbers on their spiffy and neat trellises, and eggplant, various peppers, beans in rows, onions and shallots, greens, even some potatoes, a diverse yet orderly loveliness bordered by gladioluses and other bright cutting flowers to make everything tidy inside.

So that's what I was looking at when I was looking at the plot of dirt where my vegetable garden grows.

"Well, I'm looking at the weeds that aren't there yet," she said, always my lovely realist. "And it'll get sloppy and you'll become aggravated just like last year. Wouldn't it be easier to just sod it over this year?"

Her wingless words fell on the floor between us with a thud.

Just sod it over?

She might as well have plucked my heart out, salted it and fed it to the dog.

And he'd eat it, too, since Zeus eats everything, except American cheese singles and grapes.

Sod it over? Sod it over?

No way. Can a man sod over his vegetable garden and still consider himself a man?

"It would be easier," she said. "And we wouldn't have weeds."

But after several "I promise you, honeys" and a "gardening helps relieve my stress" and "I will weed, I will WEED!" and whatever other desperate baloney I could slice on a moment's notice, we decided mutually as befits a respectful married couple: I would garden but weed it, too. And I promised that I really meant it this time.

Of course, weeding isn't really an issue if you plant correctly and use landscape fabric. Just lay out the fabric in rows, stake it down, poke various holes and plant. And that's what we're going to do. I mean, what I'll do myself, or maybe I could bribe my sons to do it.

Though it was a chilly May morning, I looked out and envisioned a man among his plants on an evening in late June, a man content, a guy putting distance between himself and the brutalizing business of politics and the carrion birds that hover over public money.

But that fellow out there in the June garden of my mind doesn't worry about political carrion eaters. He's at peace, listening to the White Sox on the radio with some green jute twine and tomato tape in his pockets.

He's drinking a cold can of Hamm's beer and he pulls up an onion or two for a snack, peels off the skin and stands there; a man whole and kind of agrarian, a man of Aristotelian purpose chewing his onions alone, a man at one with the world.

So I drove to a nursery and filled up one of those flat hand trucks, filled it with 12 tomato plants, the Big Boys, the Beefsteaks, the Early Girls and a few heirloom varieties.

PHOTO GALLERIES