The garden was waiting when we arrived home from a week of Pony Penning activities on Chincoteague Island. At first, I sighed when I saw the burgeoning garden, but a moment of reflection changed my attitude.
Yellow squash tumbled from tangled vines alongside long green zucchini. Red globes peeked through dark green leaves, letting me know there were tomatoes, too. Cucumbers laid on the brown earth in straight lines beneath shady leaves. Even the artichokes were ready to pick.
How will I get it all done? I asked myself. The horse field needed to be cleaned, I had to unpack, download photos, finish paperwork from the fundraiser our nonprofit (The Feather Fund) held while on the island, and we had brought home piles of laundry.
Then, while unpacking, I thought about all the reasons I love our garden.
It’s not just that fresh garden produce tastes so good. Yes, it is fresh, and we know what is in it — not chemicals — and it offers an opportunity to preserve for winter meals. But there is more. Here is why we love our gardens.
First of all, gardening burns calories and Lord knows that I am nearly always on a diet. For my husband, it is a form of stress relief. But even more, gardens are a beautiful place to gather.
Years ago, my husband constructed a patio right next to our garden and this has become our picnic place. There is nothing so neat as sitting next to tall, shady tomato plants, or reaching over to pick some fresh chives to sprinkle on top of your potatoes — right out of your own garden. Almost everyone who picnics with us uses the patio seating but my granddaughter Norah’s favorite seat is on the stairsteps we have at the end of one raised bed garden. We use those wooden steps to lay out nearly ripe tomatoes and other produce, but she has declared it her own private picnic seating spot. As soon as her plate is filled she climbs to the top step, plops down and surveys us all while she is eating.
Gardens truly are exquisite, and you can work to make them even more so. Add a pop of color by planting flowers on the garden edge or by sprinkling them throughout the rows of veggies. This not only adds beauty, it can keep away pests or draw in more beautiful visitors. Marigolds attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps that prey on garden pests.
Brightly colored tubular flowers — like bee balms, columbines and daylilies — attract delicate hummingbirds, and there is nothing like a butterfly bush to pull in a variety of butterflies. I always hold my breath when one gently lands, flapping wings with colored patterns etched in black or gray. Surely, they are God’s way of reminding us that there is good in the world.
Gardens can also become family projects and a source of important life lessons. When my kids were young, their first chores were in the garden. What a great way to promote a hard work ethic and teach kids that we all must work together as a team to get things done. During their teen years, my girls set up a veggie stand in our front yard, earning their first real money on their own. Studies from the National School Garden Program have shown that children who are involved in gardening also have more positive attitudes about fresh fruits and vegetables.
For extra fun, kids these days can turn sections of the family garden into fairy gardens, igniting imagination and creativity. And when a rainy day comes, crafty garden projects can be created together while everyone is trapped inside, a great way of turning rainy days into family fun. From beaded wind chimes to watering cans made from detergent bottles, to painted rocks that can label plant rows - there are so many ideas out there. We’ve found many on the internet and in our local library.
Gardens are good for the environment. Each garden meal is one less plastic container or can of veggies we buy. And gardens attract bees. With the bee population declining, we need to offer pollen for the bees. Albert Einstein once said life on earth would disappear within four years if the honeybee ever became extinct.
My husband loves his raised bed gardens, which are easy to maintain because he uses garden fabric to keep the weeds out. He built a layered section for my herb garden. It spirals upward like soil-filled stair steps, perfect for picking the herbs we grow as I need them.
Growing our own herbs has definitely cut cooking expenses. Herbs are often the most expensive ingredient in any recipe and a pack of herbs from the grocery store can cost anywhere from $3 to $6. In contrast, many of the herbs we plant — like rosemary, oregano and thyme — come back year after year, lasting many years.
For me, having a garden also makes meal planning easy. When I wonder what to make for dinner I always consider what we have in the garden. Tonight, I am making my favorite squash casserole, a recipe given to me by our neighbor, Betty Groft. I think of Betty, who has now left this earth, every time I made this dish, layered with cooked squash and onions and grated carrots in sour cream and mushroom soup, on a bed of chicken stuffing.
There are some garden dishes that we can’t live without. Salsa is one of them. By the end of the summer our basement shelves will be lined with jars of this spicy red concoction. And it feels oh so good to know that we grew the ingredients — tomatoes, garlic, onions, green peppers, hot peppers and even the cilantro that goes into this favorite jarred treat.
There are so many reasons to fall in love with gardening, and that is why I cannot complain when I come home to the garden of plenty. I hope, if you don’t already have a garden, this makes you consider one in the future.