30 July 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

The thing I like best about gardening is eating. I am an ever-grateful, ever-praising recipient of meals prepared from fresh ingredients grown thirty feet from where I am typing this. Stepping into my backyard, I can always smile at the sight of eight-foot corn stalks, a jungle of green beans and rows of herbs. I get a little thrill to see the progress of the eggplant and wait impatiently for the tomatoes to ripen. Yes, watching a garden grow is very satisfying.

But there ends my motivations as a gardener. Getting my hands dirty, cultivating for months and then preserving the inevitable excess for storage, I could pass on. If gardening were a book, I’d rather just watch the movie.

Like most food consumers in modern America I have to go through remedial produce school to remember that the picture perfect products at the fruitage fashion show that is a supermarket fresh food section are manufactured merchandise. I can muster appreciation for the end product, but it’s the nurturing, tending, and encouraging that I feel only obligation towards. Not until the weedlings outgrow the seedlings do I get down on my hands and knees to gain back some ground for my future meals.

I’ve always heard that gardeners that talk to their plants see increased growth and generally healthier specimens. This theory was first recorded by the German professor Gustav Fechner in his book Nanna: Soul-life of Plants, printed in 1848. This idea is so still so popular that Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters tested the theory in 2004. Their results suggest that it’s “plausible.” Research conducted by scientists at South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology found that two genes involved in a plant’s response to light – rcbS and Ald – were turned on by music played around 70 decibels. “This is about the level of normal conversation,” said Rich Marini, head of Penn State’s horticulture department, in an article on

I’ve been known to talk when weeding. I say things like, get the bleep out of here, I’ve been out here a bleeping hour already, and bleep-bleep it, stop biting me. (That last one is to the mosquitoes that prey on me while I prey on the vegetative garden invaders, as they are affectionately known in my house.) I can’t argue the tone conveys inspiration for the vegetables, but they're still growing so it can’t be all bad.

I want to be more involved in gardening, which is why I told Richard I would be in charge of our plot this year – a responsibility that I have all but reneged on. I’ll make it out there when my guilt jacket gets too warm, but I’ve seen evidence that my tolerance to heat is increasing.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of reasoning. Once I connect the dots in my head between food and where it really comes from, my inner MichaelPollan shows up for a bit. I just have to hope that happens with enough frequency to keep things growing.

1 comment:

  1. What about your inner Barbra Kingsolaver? It seems like she should be more of an inspiration. You should read her book again.