Learning How to Not Garden



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Over these last 15 years with Herb Companion I’ve shared with readers my failures and my successes in the garden. I’ve revealed my most embarrassing moments, related how I once used herbs and spices from my mother’s kitchen to “can” green peaches at age 6. I’ve described my first love affair in first grade and how I made my first lilac perfume for the object of my affection — who promptly turned down my marriage proposal and refused to believe I actually had made the lilac extract. I have even shared how I was reunited with my lost daughters after 25 years, by way of my garden.

I have shared my fears and dreams, and in return, you, dear readers, have shared parts of your lives with me. As one reader in Iowa put it when I was speaking at an herb festival there, “I know more about your childhood and life experiences than I do about my own husband!” Now I’m entering a new chapter in my gardening life and I want to share that as well.

I planted my first garden at 5. My parents let me make all of the many mistakes any 5-year-old could make. Instead of discouraging me, they bought me child’s size tools, and let me actually plan and plant my own garden. From that experience I built a strong foundation and have never stopped gardening since.

Now, with this new chapter, I find that I have to start teaching myself a new way of gardening. I’m calling it, “learning how to not garden,” because I have never been without a garden. It’s a sobering feeling when we reach an age where we realize we have to slow down. But I don’t know how to keep from gardening!

For many years I have had kidney disease, so much a part of my genetic inheritance that older members of my family called it, “the family curse.”

In recent years, better dialysis equipment and kidney transplants have prolonged lives for those who have this illness. I’ve finished testing to see if I’m a candidate for a kidney transplant and soon will be put on the waiting list with 57,000 other people. Until I get a kidney, I’ll undergo daily dialysis. That means I have to curtail some of my garden work in the coming year.

But I have to plant, I have to grow things — it’s in my nature. Still, I don’t have much energy. Tilling a bed is now an enormous challenge. Preparing one bed takes me hours. I can reduce my number of garden beds, but does that mean I won’t have so many exotic herbs and vegetables to show visitors when they come? Will it mean I totally run out of steam and can’t weed?

I don’t know what the future holds. I will garden as much as I can, but I need to learn not to garden — an entirely new adventure. Maybe I will adapt by learning to be more efficient, or to plant only two kinds of beans instead of eight. Based on everything I read and hear from those who have had a kidney transplant, I know that I will return to gardening with plenty of energy and steam once I have the transplant. For now, though, my garden will get smaller and I will have to get wiser and faster.

Jim Long gardens and writes from the Ozark Mountains. Reader comments are always welcome at www.LongCreekHerbs.com and at Lcherbs@interlinc.net.