COLUMN: Accidental gardener discovers nature

Farm Forum

Back in May, when rototillers rumbled, when seedlings sprouted, when yellows, pinks and reds appeared in yards, pushing out the gray of winter, I was recovering from surgery and resisting the urge to plant.

Unable to handle a shovel, I’d resigned myself to the inevitability of a weed garden.

I’m not one of those avid gardeners, the ones with football fields of beans or whole parking lots of corn. I don’t have a tool shed crammed with the latest gardening gear. I don’t read gardening books. No one would ever pin my garden on Pinterest.

But I do like planting a few tomatoes and zucchini.

And I usually plant geraniums and marigolds in front of the house. Nothing fancy. Just enough to welcome spring.

But this year, I had to let it all go, and it wasn’t easy.

I saw flowers going in all over Aberdeen and contrasted the color to my bare, brick planter box in the front yard. I saw ads for garden centers, illustrated with healthy geraniums, petunias and ivy, or I’d see newspaper inserts festooned with graphics of tomato and pepper plants — and I’d compare the vibrancy and color of the ads to our empty veggie garden.

Then, one day, I looked out to find an assortment of small flowers in four-packs lined up along the bricks of my planter box. Where did they come from? Surely not my husband.

But yes! The man who never showed the slightest interest in gardening rolled up his sleeves and stepped in to plant.

Here was a man whose mind focuses on historical questions or education policy or theological puzzles. His thoughts may be engrossed in a chess problem, but never has he seemed even to see a flower. This very man was unloading greenery from the back of our car?

I had always excused his lack of enthusiasm for the natural world by blaming nearsightedness. The closest he comes to being one with nature is swimming at the water park. To him, tomatoes might as well grow in the refrigerator, and flower beds are blurry swaths of color.

And yet, here he was, actually handling petunias.

I watched as he arranged the flowers — six or seven varieties, rather than my predictable two or three. Later, he mistakenly scattered grass seed into the planter box, and grass sprouted up alongside the flowers. Nevertheless, his plantings filled and colored the empty space. The grass doesn’t look half bad, really.

He planted vegetables in the backyard. I usually grow a zucchini or two. He planted six, and four crookneck squash. He also planted several tomatoes and a few purple pepper plants.

I was afraid his small tomato plants would fail because mine so often do. I’ve seen many failures over the years. Diseased zucchini leaves. Bug-eaten, lacy sweet potato vines. Notably, the watermelon, which grew leaves like mad and took over the whole garden, ending in one lemon-sized watermelon at the first hard freeze.

My husband’s first garden attempts are thriving.

He sees the whole yard with new eyes. He’s mowed, weeded and trimmed more than ever before. The yard, I must admit, looks better than it ever has.

He mowed over my coarse, woody rhubarb “tree.” Now it’s grown back tender and sweet.

He cut my almost dead mystery bush to nothing, and now the remaining stalk is green and growing.

For the first time, he commented on flowers at Storybook Land. I never knew that he could even see them.

I believe he’s enjoying his botanical handiwork, though he soon may stop enjoying zucchini.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at