Green reigns at others' gardens

The Baltimore Sun

Inspired by Earth Day, I biked to my community garden plot and searched for something leafy to put on the dinner table.

I did not find much in my garden but I turned green with envy when I saw my neighbors' plots. Other people's peas had popped out of the soil. Mine were still buried, as dormant as a hibernating bear.

It was a similar story with lettuce. As I stood in my garden, I could see lettuce to the left of me, lettuce to the right of me. Little green rows, as straight as the ranks of soldiers, were rising to greet the sun. Meanwhile, most of the ground that I had seeded had the unpromising look of a paved parking lot. I coveted my neighbors' gardens.

The idea of growing your own vegetables seems to be the rage. Recently, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a deep thinker about food issues, recommended it in a New York Times Magazine essay on fighting climate change.

Pushing aside the rhetorical dirt fight over whether growing your own food results in less of a carbon footprint than buying fare trucked into the grocery store - there seem to be "convincing" studies on both sides of that fight - Pollan argued that growing a garden is good for the planet and for you.

It is decent exercise, and it reminds you of the original solar rhythm of nature, he said. Moreover, growing a garden can buck you up, making you a producer rather than a mere consumer. Finally, Pollan said, growing your own produce can engage you with your neighbors, giving you a shared interest and, if you are lucky, also giving you someone on whom you can unload the excess zucchini.

It was a good piece; it made me feel all green and glowing. But when I got to my garden, hardscrabble reality set in. Instead of fond feelings for my fellow man, I felt jealous of my neighbors. Their gardens were greener than mine.

As for bucking up my sense of self, the repeated reluctance of my peas to germinate has left me feeling both defeated and grateful that I have a day job to pay the grocery bill. If it is true that the victory gardens grown in America's backyards during World War II yielded 40 percent of the nation's produce, then that is another reason the folks of that era should be called "the Greatest Generation." With the exception of August and September, I am happy to harvest food to produce a couple of dishes a week from my garden.

I agree that gardening is exercise. Another way of putting it is that it is hard work, a fact my knees reminded me of the other day as I pushed myself up from an extended tussle with weeds.

The weeds, I noticed, were having no trouble flourishing. If only the peas could model themselves after the weeds.

I did spot another plant that was showing signs of spring growth. Over in the corner of the garden, wedged behind a board, mint was sprouting.

Most of the time I battle the mint. Its roots spread underground and can claim ground faster than kudzu. But this time of year, I am grateful to see it. Saturday is Derby Day, and for me that means a mint julep.

I make it with a healthy portion of bourbon poured over a mixture of 2 tablespoons of powered sugar, 2 tablespoons of club soda and 6 to 8 mint leaves, muddled in the bottom of a julep cup. The muddled mint leaves go in the cup first, then sugar and club soda, then the pulverized ice, bourbon and a sprig of mint on top.

If tradition holds on Derby Day, I will spend time digging in the dirt, trying to coax Mother Nature into eventually providing me kitchen-table pleasures. As the sun begins to fade, I will sip my mint julep and feel good about this old earth.

In part it is a feeling brought on by the mint, which I grew myself.

See Rob Kasper each Wednesday on ABC2/WMAR-TV's News at Noon.

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