Of the many mysteries in life, gardening holds more secrets than a Mayan temple. Just what is organic; permaculture; bio-dynamic? When should I start my seedlings? How do I keep the soil from drying out? Who cares what pH means? Is there that much difference between Origanum Majorana and Origanum vulgare? Why use Latin anyway?
Many people will tell you that it isn't worth the effort to plant a garden. Vegetables are cheaper to buy in a store. Some of these same people will cheerfully ride around a huge lawn, mowing a single species of grass. If there are deciduous trees in the picture-perfect expanse, their leaves will be raked, gathered, and disposed of at the curb. There might be a chlorinated pool in the back yard surrounded by a concrete patio. Weeds and bugs will be quickly destroyed by any means necessary.
It is a mystery to me how anyone can live in such a sterile environment. Where is the adventure in that? I want to be surprised at every twist and turn of a garden path. I want to smell a new fragrance, pluck a cherry tomato, pinch a mint leaf, experience the significance of life with each step. I would rather see a natural pool with swimming fish, dragonflies on a cattail, or a frog on a Lily pad. I want to see a garden snake sunning itself on a rock, set there for just that purpose.
After decades of digging in sand, clay and rocky ground I discovered the true value of gardening isn't in the food I grow, there is a greater treasure.
Old Luther Brown was a crop farmer in Virginia. We rented a tenant house in the middle of his cantaloupe patch. During the hot summer months we weeded and watered; come fall we helped harvest for a share of the bounty. Luther made growing vegetables look easy. He said, "All it takes is passion, patience and callused hands." It was there that I planted my first tiny garden; that the seed of passion for the earth sprouted. Thank you Luther.
I carried that seed with me to many other places. It grew stronger with every move.
With a pick and shovel I turned over 600 square feet of New Mexican desert. From a winding mountain road I gathered stones for a wall to keep out the jack rabbits. My hands grew more blisters than calluses. I watched my garden dry up and the plants wither away. A neighbor said, "Senor, you have mulch to learn." She taught me that newspapers could be used for more than a Sunday chuckle and swatting flies, autumn leaves are more useful on a garden than in a landfill, and that dirt loves a straw hat. Thank you Mary.
The journey ended in Pennsylvania where my roots are deepest. We left the heat of the southern states for the warmth of old friends and family eighteen years ago. One of the first things I did was to borrow a roto-tiller. Within five minutes it broke a tine on a slice of shale and stalled with a large locust root wrapped around the shaft. Six hours later we had a 4'x15' plot with three inches of soil. I returned the repaired tiller and watched the owner park it in his garage. He said he hadn't used it since discovering and showed me how to build a pile. Our plot is getting thick, a little at a time. I have learned to be patient. Thank you Mr. Jones.
I joined a master gardener's program, it was a revelation. The true masters speak in tongues! I volunteered as construction supervisor and built raised beds, arbors, and cold frames. Calluses appeared on my hands and my thumbs acquired a greenish tint from rubbing elbows with the gurus of gardening. The elite are farmers, factory workers, teachers and housewives. They are black and white, yellow and red, young and old. I learned companion planting isn't just for plants, it works even better for humans. Thank you all.
Aside from passion, patience, and callused hands, the real secret -- the reason we garden -- is the people. The enlightened souls who go to the trouble of solving those great mysteries and then freely share the wealth. I am far richer knowing those who have given me so much.