As soon as she puts her hands in my mouth, she asks me a question.
“I heard from Pat that you guys have a garden. How’s that going?”
I half stiffen, half laugh in my head because of course she would ask me a question right at that moment when I can only answer with drool and mumbles. Isn’t that just some sort of hazing ritual among dentists? The kind of thing they laugh about at happy hour?
The conversation continues as I lay at that awkward, head-slanting-towards-the-ground angle, a person at each ear with their faces just out of my peripheral vision, gloved hands and instruments moving up and over my face. I don’t hate to come here, as there’s no fear of pain since I take great care of my teeth, but I don’t really like it either. Something about the lack of personal space and the sensation that I’m restrained in that chair makes me want to jump out of my skin.
“I wish I could have a garden,” the assistant says. “Everything I try to grow dies.”
That is everybody’s reaction. “I wish I could have a garden,” followed by some excuse as to why they seemingly cannot. Or, “You have a garden? Cool!” Like I just told them I own a Ferrari or I’m having Betty White over for dinner.
It’s baffling to me. This hobby popular with grannies the world over is not difficult. You throw some dirt into a pot with some seeds, put it in the sun, water it and wait. TADA! Garden.
As a child, my mom always had a garden with mostly flowers and tomatoes. I always got to help dig holes and water, but one year when everything had already been planted and I was asking to help, mom sprinkled some popcorn kernels into my palm and I went off to sow my seeds. My parents nearly fell over when corn stalks sprouted up in the garden weeks later. I brought my harvest along with one of those old school popcorn poppers to kindergarten show and tell that week. The teacher and my parents exclaimed about my green thumb.
Having a green thumb is equivalent to having good luck, which frankly is closely linked with common sense. Plants need water and sun, so, you know, do that. Then consult Google or the people at the garden store to buy some decent soil.
As for space, having a yard and the ability to build garden boxes is nice, but as an apartment dweller, I had an herb garden in a pot outside my front door and it had the same effect as the larger gardens I’ve grown and maintained the last several years. There’s something uniquely satisfying about planting something, watching it grow, then eating it. It just tastes better and it’s more fun. Maybe it’s the prepackaged, convenience-oriented world we live in. We’ve forgotten that those carrots we buy at the store were actually grown by somebody and were pulled out of the ground at some point.
But, I too was shocked with the near instant gratification when the seeds I planted in my first large garden as an adult sprouted in just a few days. It was so easy. Pat built a small box out of untreated cedar in the backyard and by the end of the summer it was spilling over the edges. The next three years, (minus last year when we spent the spring in purgatory – the name we lovingly gave our temporary apartment while our house was being built) we just built on the knowledge we gained the prior year, adjusting and experimenting.
This year, the garden boxes are different in that they have gone vertical to accommodate our tiny backyard (No, everything is not bigger in Texas), but everything else is seemingly the same: Planting the favorites, watching the growth, harvest, preparation — minus the fact that we could plant in February when there would have been snow elsewhere. There’s something oddly comforting about settling back into a hobby and having it be exactly as you remember, especially when nearly everything else seems to have been turned upside down the past year or so.
Not everything performs exactly the way you’d like it to, but I have yet to experience a complete failure in gardening. The hassle actually comes when you accidentally plant too much of something or when something is an unexpected overachiever. Two years ago it was the squash. I had never even eaten squash, so I had no idea if I liked it let alone how it grew. A couple of mounds with four or five seeds each were planted and suddenly this prehistoric looking monster started taking over one of the large garden boxes crowding and blocking out everything else. Then the blossoms popped up and this thing started birthing yellow crookneck squash like it was Michelle Duggar. Pat and I would grab scissors, cut a dozen off the vines, then a dozen more would be back two days later. These things would grow more than an inch overnight and you had to grab them when they were small or they’d get bitter and seedy. I was out there almost everyday when Pat was traveling and I hated it mostly because the plant attracted huge spiders. I’d stick my hand into the jungle, a tarantula would jump onto my wrist then I’d scream, fling the clippers into the air and fall backwards into the yard. Also, come to find out, I hate squash. I cooked every squash recipe known to man—squash fries, squash pizza, squash boats— they were all nasty. I’m like, what the hell are we going to do with all this damn squash? Luckily in Denver, your co-workers are reluctant to take leftover cupcakes off your hands at the office, but they’ll fight over the yellow squash. That’s Colorado for you.
This year, it’s the snow peas.
The dentist had to switch instruments and took her hands out of my mouth just long enough for me to tell her about my inability to eat another freaking snow pea. I planted them in Denver and they didn’t produce very many pods, so I upped it to two-dozen seeds this year and it exploded. I lost count after pulling about 100 pods. But, snow peas have an acute life expectancy, especially in Texas because they can’t take the high heat. Half the stalks are now dead and the other half are starting to wither. They’ve run their course for the season and I’m relieved. Yes, I’m relieved that part of my garden is dead. I may never look at another snow pea again…first world gardening problems.
We ended my bi-annual check up with a discussion about Betty…my dwarf Meyer lemon tree that grows in a big pot on wheels on the back patio. She’s my novelty this year, and hopefully for years to come, hence the name. I’ve never lived in a climate where you could successfully grow citrus trees and it’s one of the things I’ve added to my short list of things I like about living in North Texas. I’m grasping at straws here, but I have to or I’ll go insane.
Despite the interest (genuine or otherwise), gardening probably really is one of those topics reserved for those not-so remarkable times when you can answer nearly everything with a nod or a grunt while somebody fishes around in your mouth…or during grandma’s gardening club. But, for me, finding satisfaction in the mundane has been an important part of coping with the unexpected and often undesirable results of big change. The garden is sort of my happy place right now, I guess.
With that, I’m sure it will come up again whether I’m in the dentist chair or not along with, “I wish I could have a garden.” Just be careful what you wish for…because the next person who says it is going to be gifted with at least half of my next bumper crop. I hope you like squash.