I’ve spent a large portion of my summer thus far valiantly attempting to learn how to container garden. What I’ve learned is a rejection of everything you’ve likely heard about gardening, the sorts of encouraging things blogs will tell you. None of it is easy, and no plant basically “takes care of itself.”
For one thing, and entirely unbeknownst to me until recent weeks, each herb has its unique preferences: for more sun, for more shade, more water or less, watering more heavily less often or less heavily and more frequently. Some plants need enormous pots, others thrive in a small container, and others appear unwilling to thrive no matter where you put them.
Her Sad Herbs
The heartiest of my sad herb crop is the faithful basil, but even he languishes: The pot was beset by aphids and spider mites who — no matter how many times I’ve sprayed the leaves with a solution of dish soap and water (truly, I’ve tried it!) — will not go away.
The tomato, though, has been the most rigorous and time-consuming venture. It was all fun and games at first, while the seedling grew in its massive pot and, to my wonder, began to produce flowers and fruits without me having done anything but offer it plenty of water. And then the troubles came: A storm bent the main stem brutally, the earliest tomatoes developed sad brown spots from a lack of calcium, and I discovered that the branches were sorely in need of a device called a “tomato cage.”
The learning and work to be done never ends. Considering how much time and emotional energy I’ve poured into this project, what’s the point?
If I can get a beautiful bunch of basil at the farmer’s market on Saturday, why fight the aphids and the mites with my ineffective dish-soap regimen? If I can pick up tomatoes in season at the local grocery for less than a cup of coffee, why did I just spend my morning painstakingly building a cage to support the branches of my own apparently calcium-deficient tomato plant?
A Meal Transformed
I think there’s something about the human need to eat that makes gardening especially meaningful. If my tomato plant ends up producing fruit with no unsightly rotten spots I can use in a salad later this summer, I’ll certainly be proud of having conquered a difficult challenge.
But more, the meal itself will be transformed by those tomatoes. The fact of having grown something for the nourishment of my family alters the nature of the eating.
We eat to stay alive, but the ways we choose to cultivate our food should be much more than just a utilitarian process. The more attention and care we give to what we serve on our table, whether we grow it or buy it, the more we celebrate in our nourishment the fact of our own dignity.