Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Side trip to the garden


Borage and bee

Borage and bee

I thought I’d break from writing for a bit. I come from a rural background. My family was the second generation removed from the farm; my maternal great-grandparents were farmers. In fact, someone found a newspaper article from the twenties (?) describing my great-grandfather’s death by farm accident. I mean, heck, they couldn’t even say “pregnant” on television, but they could write a play-by-play of a farmer’s death struggle with a power auger. You won’t find description like that in newspapers these days.

When I was growing up, everyone had a backyard garden. The neat gardens belonged to retirees, because they were the only ones who had time to weed that well! We had three gardens at our first house, then when we moved, we had one main garden and a secondary one that lasted a couple seasons.

Cucumbers, zucchini--far, and Brussels sprouts on left.

Cucumbers, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts.

Bottom line, I grew up gardening. Even in this small town of about 2,000 people, there are many backyard gardens when one drives through the side streets. Many are flower gardens, but there are still quite a few veggie gardens around. When I worked in town, off-loading–er, I mean, sharing–excess bounty like zucchini and cucumbers with co-workers who didn’t have gardens worked, up until the point everyone was just as sick of it as I was.

A few years ago, while I was attending the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat in Madison, WI, I heard something that made me realize just how different my rural upbringing was these days. One of my writing sisters is a pastor, and she told me about the community garden she was setting up, and how hard it was to find people to help who actually knew anything about gardening. What?! After I got over the initial shock, I realized that made sense; her garden was in a Chicago area somewhere between “city” and “suburbia”. People who grew up in the city may not know anything about gardening. A foreign concept to me, but okay, I get it.

Our school started a garden about 4 or 5 years ago. The ag teacher who spearheaded it even received an award for his efforts. Last year, my son got a job at the school garden. Of the five or so students that worked out at the garden, guess who knew the most about gardening and tractors besides the ag teacher? My son.

cornJaw drop. Seriously? We’re out in farm country, and the other kids don’t know as much about gardening as my son? Sigh. It was great for my son, who was 16 at the time, because he got the idea that maybe all those things Mom and Dad have been trying to teach him have some real world value. I still have a hard time with the idea that rural kids don’t know so much about gardening as they did when I was growing up (oh gawd, do I feel OLD!). I suppose, in this age of industrial farms and fewer family farms, that maybe kids who live in the country don’t grow up with a family garden because both parents work outside the home. It takes a lot of time to keep a garden in a state where the veggies can grow without being choked by weeds.

Now I have a job in a Twin Cities suburb. The suburb is younger and less developed than most. Farm fields are within a couple miles of the major highway. The part that still amazes me is how little some of my co-workers know about gardening. I still bring my surplus to work to share, but when I have to explain what a kohlrabi is, or that dill is used for pickles after it flowers but before the seeds turn hard, I consciously remind myself that many of my colleagues grew up in a metropolitan area, without a backyard garden.

Flowering cilantro and dill

Flowering cilantro and dill

On the bright side, some are nostalgic for the gardens from their childhood even if they don’t have one of their own. Some are considering planting a few veggies, or need suggestions for easy vegetables to start with. And some, I learned, are disallowed from planting a garden by the homeowners’ association in their development. OMG. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that. The first thing I thought of was one of those busy-body homeowners’ association presidents, you know, the ones that are retired and have nothing better to do than run around with a ruler to check grass height and leave notices when the tulips aren’t dead-headed fast enough.

The garden can be a chore, until those first tastes of summer, the zucchini, the beets, and the cucumbers, are ready to pick. The smell of cilantro reminds me of pico de gallo, and the scent of dill is a beacon for this year’s lot of pickles. The sweet, sunshine-touched taste of fresh garden tomatoes makes the sweat, dirt, mosquito bites, and time worth it!


Author: Julie Holmes, author

Pen names: J. M. Holmes, J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I've been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, two chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

6 thoughts on “Side trip to the garden

  1. I know in this day and age, it isn’t necessary to grow your own food, but it seems like a useful skill to have in your back pocket. You never know when those veggies will come in handy.

    A friend of mine told me that when the elementary school in her town started a garden, the teacher secretly “planted” grocery store carrots in the soil so that the young ones could have the experience of harvesting and eating their own veggies before the school year ended in early June. We all laughed at the tale, but the kids were thrilled with their garden and ate the carrots for snack.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was brilliant! Kids have a hard time waiting the 3-4 months after planting seeds to see the results. I’ve seen a lot of shows on PBS about programs like that to help city kids learn where their food comes from, and some schools have gardens where the kids can work through the summer.

      The thing with the garden produce is it tastes so much better than the store stuff. Farmers markets are much closer to homegrown, but there’s still something about growing it yourself. My husband used to work with a guy who grew his own potatoes. Hubby couldn’t understand why the guy would grow potatoes since they’re so cheap to buy. That is, until we planted potatoes. The taste makes the difference! There’s nothing quite like that first ripe tomato from the garden–YUM!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up with a garden too, and I’ve sorely missed it in these transient college days! Just a couple more years until the husband finishes his PhD, and then we’ll settle down somewhere long enough to let the zucchini and tomatoes run wild. I can’t wait! We got to eat out of my parent’s garden last month, and it reminded me how incredible veggies taste fresh from the dirt. Not to mention the strawberry patch…we couldn’t pry my toddler out of there with a crowbar. I’m glad there are still gardeners in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you were able to share in your parent’s garden! It’s so fun watching little ones enjoy it. I used to take my kids to the local pick-ur-own strawberry farm when they were old enough to understand “pick only the red ones–and don’t eat any”. One of the ladies at work has a toddler grandson, so I suggested she plant a cherry tomato plant just for him. I never realized how much I missed it until I was away from home and couldn’t get back to help Mom with any of the picking and canning. My grandmother, now ninety-one, has told me how glad she is that I can because so many younger people don’t do that anymore.

      Hope you can get your own garden going soon! Even if it’s just a cherry tomato plant or some spinach in a pot on the patio, it’d be something to “hold you” until you can really “dig” in 🙂


  3. I confess I didn’t know any of the stuff you mentioned toward the end of the post. I live in a semi-rural community in a moderate sized town (13,000 people) but I spent a few years with a garden in my back yard. The results were mostly hit or miss. These days I’m down to just a few tomato plants. When I retire, I might start a garden again., Like you said….it’s a commitment of time. I do remember how much I enjoyed those evenings tending to my plants. And nothing tastes as good as homegrown! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hope you get a chance to garden again, Mae! It is a huge time commitment (I suppose a smaller garden = a smaller time commitment?), and now is about the time, when the weeds get supercharged, that I throw up my hands and just let ’em go. Just picked the first cucumbers, and I checked my sweet corn–that’s about ready as well. The first cherry tomato has a blush on it–that’s the highlight of my garden, the tomatoes! Hubby said he needs onions (he does most of the cooking). There’s nothing quite like heading out to the garden to “shop” for onions, or potatoes, or anything else we grow 🙂 Still trying to figure out more to do with zucchini. You’d think, after all these years, I’ll have more ideas!

      Liked by 1 person

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