Seattleites are gardening freaks, and now that Jameelah and I have a condo, with a little balcony, we are starting to understand why. Growing things fulfills a fundamental need that we all have, the need to bring life into the world, to nurture it and protect it. It’s like having a baby, without all the annoyances of changing diapers and feeding them and breaking down on a talk show when they become teenagers and are out of control.
Trouble is, Jameelah and I kill just about everything we touch. Seriously, we have managed to kill a lucky bamboo. A lucky bamboo! You just stick it in water and it will outlast you! We bought one, and it turned yellow and died. Last week, our aunt gave us an airplant. “This tillandsia is fool-proof,” she said, and she should know, being an accomplished gardener and author. A few months later, it shriveled up and died. This is really sad, because the air plant absorbs its nutrients from the air. You don’t even need to water it ever.
But like my grandmother used to say: “After every storm, the birds will tell you which way to get to the mangoes.” I have no idea what she meant. She chewed a lot of betel nuts and areca leaves. Anyway, we decided to try our hands at gardening again, true gardening, with real dirt, in pots on our balcony, and I must tell you, it is a rewarding experience.
There is something visceral and primal about touching dirt. And by visceral and primal, I mean gross and disgusting. Dirt is not very clean. Not the most experienced gardeners, we went to Lowe’s wearing normal people clothing. The experienced gardeners sneered at us. They were wearing dirty jeans and stained t-shirts, had compost in their hair, and smelled like sweat and chicken manure. They shook their heads as we dragged a giant bag of potting soil to the car. I was trying not to soil my brand new 18-dollar Ross dress shirt, the finest shirt I own.
At the nursery, the owner patiently answered our stupid questions, trying not to get annoyed. So, I asked, where are your carrot plants? He sighed. “Carrots are root vegetables,” he said, “you usually plant them by seed, not starts.” He was horrified by how much stuff we were buying. We kill just about everything, I said by way of explanation, and he looked at the blueberry bush in our cart wistfully. He had raised that plant for a year.
We came home and started planting the seeds and starts in two big containers and two Earthboxes. After the initial grossness of touching dirt and fighting bugs and crap, I finally understand why people garden. Every day, I get excited to come home to see how my six tiny strawberry plants, two zucchinis, and a dozen kale and cilantro seeds are doing. The seeds, especially, are great. I get a rush of excitement when these tiny little seeds burst out of the ground.
Conversely, when they fail, it’s like being stabbed in the heart. The other day, I was alarmed to see blotches of foam on the zucchini plants. Google said it was just spittle bugs, which are usually harmless. Still, these plants become like your children. You give birth to them. You nurture them. You worry about them. You drive away things that would attack them. Then, they grow up, and you pluck them and sauté them in a little bit of olive oil and garlic and serve them over pasta. Yesterday, I came home, devastated to see the strawberry plants wilted and defeated looking. I knelt on the floor, caressing their soft, lifeless leaves, wondering why, why it couldn’t be me.
I quickly ran inside, grabbed a pitcher of water, and watered the plants. Please, please, I said, don’t die, don’t leave me. A couple of hours later, they perked up. Apparently, you have to water plants once in a while in order for them to stay alive. We are learning as we go. I think we’re ready to have children.