TRUE CONFESSIONS! Or Anything I’ve Learned of Any Value Comes From the Garden

Unfortunately I came to gardening and growing late in life. I grew up a pretty typical child of the 1960s in California. The good parts were my parents' love of Modern Jazz and the West Coast Sound. My memories of suburban life were of Dad diving for abalone and coming home to a big backyard barbecue. He'd grill the abalone along with thick, juicy steaks, which were served with a Caesar salad and ice cold gin martinis (in those days there was no other kind.) I remember all of our ashtrays were really spent abalone shells and I can still see the small little piles of ash that would form from the holes along the edge of the shell. The bad part of this upbringing was a complete void as far as nature was concerned, beyond the abalone shells. Wine tasting was the Great Outdoors. Our house had grass that needed watering and mowing and that's about it, except for a brief but manic house plant phase my mother went through in the 1970s.


This might sound like a little too much confession for you but the fact is that I grew up being one of those people who craved success but didn't do a whole lot to achieve it. I just wanted it and it didn't seem fair that others were enjoying it when I had so much to offer and no one knew it. In fact, I don't think I had much to offer except a lack of humility and little understanding of How Life Works.

In my 30s, I experienced some humiliating financial situations and I had many unfortunate jobs. I think in some way I knew I had to start over and reinvent myself, even if the decision wasn't conscious.

I won't go into all the details (you'll need to buy me a drink for that!) but slowly things started to fall into place. I also started gardening at the same time. Plants and shrubs to start but it was when I started growing food that I started growing up. And here are just a few of the things I learned, and continue to learn:

  • No matter how much I wished for it to go faster, nature had its own plan.
  • There's something very satisfying in laying out your garden, weeding, planting seeds and then watering. But the next week is filled with anxiety as you wait. And you wait. And you doubt yourself.
  • When the first seedlings pop up, you are relieved but your work isn't over, no matter how busy you are.
  • You have to be on your game for the entire growing season, yet you can relax and you can't rush things.
  • You can do everything right and a force of nature can bring you down.
  • If you've laid a strong foundation, you can slack every now and then, but not for long and not always when you want it (or need it).
  • The rewards when you eat your first tomato are beyond measure and make the whole thing worth the bother.
  • I don't need to buy a lot of crap to be happy. My happiness now comes from seed and ends up on the dining room table. The complete circle is what really makes me happy.
  • If you fail, there's always next year.

I hope I don't sound like a greeting card. I've found all these things to be true. It's funny that when I stopped being ambitious and just started doing what I loved, I achieved my first real dose of success.

5 Comments on TRUE CONFESSIONS! Or Anything I’ve Learned of Any Value Comes From the Garden

  1. Thanks for this, Steve.
    It is important, and was a joy to read. And read again. And a couple of times more.

  2. Hi Stevie! I also grew up in the suburbs, a no-wheresville, and discovered the natural world in my 30s. I’ve been birdwatching in Central Park (and elsewhere) ever since, and am now a frustrated gardener in NYC, planting herbs in window boxes and growing tomatoes on my fire escape. It’s a joy, and a chance to slow down, tho I must admit looking forward getting into deeper dirt some time soon. Hugs, Lorna

  3. I too was saved by gardening. I lost my younger brother 4 years ago in a car accident — we were very very close, roommates for a long time, and had that bond that comes from surviving a difficult childhood. My biggest worry afterwards was that I wouldn’t ever recover — that I’d fall into that sinkhole of depression and alcoholism that is an everpresent danger in my family. As spring rolled around, and I started seeds in flats in my basement, and then eventually put out my transplants in the raised beds my brother had built for me, I kept telling myself “depressed people don’t build gardens.” Cheesy as it sounds, participating in the cycle of life, planning with the sun as it came around again that year, and seeing those plants I’d started from seed turn into real food that I could eat, and share with my friends, it went a long way toward bringing me back to life again. As Martha would say: it’s a good thing.

  4. Steve — it’s been a long time since we met, but I stumbled upon your blog, and am glad that I checked back in to read this. It’s going on my now-back-in-Manhattan-fridge. Thank you for this — it is great advice and encouraging!

  5. It’s funny that your story is remarkably similar to mine, except that I am stuck in the phase you were in in your 30’s – wondering where I fit in, feeling like I have so much to offer but nobody knows it!
    I love your blog, and I love gardening.

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