Yesterday, my father-in-law and I planted a garden. To be clear, I told him what plants I wanted and he told me where to plant them, how deep to dig the holes and so on. We planted six tomato plants, six herbs, a cucumber, a yellow squash and a bell pepper. This is the second time we’ve done a garden in my backyard at this house, but last year I didn’t help plant it. Last year, he did it as a surprise while I was away. I love the idea of gardening, but I don’t seem to be all that inclined to put in the work, so when Bill offered to bring the plants, I eagerly agreed. To be frank, I’m a little worried about the garden’s potential for success with me as its main caregiver. I don’t have the best track record with plants. In fact, I’m quite good at killing every plant that meets me. My mother and my sister, on the other hand, can grow anything. But they don’t live near enough to ensure that I won’t murder my garden. I tend to forget to water plants for days or even weeks at a time or, the case of one summer night last year, I leave the sprinkler on all night long. (What a waste of water! I know!)
It’s a wonder, really, that I was able to raise two baby boys into healthy young adulthood. But between my husband and I, we did. Our eldest is just starting to train for his next cross-country season while also taking summer classes to make up for credits lost when he transferred schools. And our youngest will be graduating high school in two weeks. I’ve been wondering what shape my days will take after our youngest heads off to college, leaving our nest empty. After so many years of focusing on parenting, it’s difficult to fully imagine the open spaces he will leave behind. It’s not that I’m worried about filling the time, it’s more like I’m curious to see how I embrace the transition.
As for the garden, I’m lucky that my father-in-law lives nearby. As my husband, Tom, likes to share, Bill grew quite the garden when Tom was a boy. I think they even grew corn! I’m nowhere near that level of gardening commitment, but I do love fresh tomatoes off the vine. They taste better than any store-bought tomato. And I have fond memories of keeping my grandmother company on hot summer Baltimore nights while she watered her beloved tomato plants. I feel certain that Bill will give our tomato plants the dedication that I may lack.
I never knew Bill to have a garden because he and Ann, my mother-in-law, moved into a townhouse just before Tom and I married. Then, when Tom’s mother’s Alzheimer’s disease took hold, they moved into a senior retirement community and there is no land for gardening there.
But before all that, they grew the big garden and they raised up three children into adulthood who they watched graduate high school and then college. They watched those three children marry and have their own children who then were raised up into adulthood. See, our younger son is Bill's youngest grandson. When our son graduates high school in two weeks, that will be the last grandchild to graduate high school.
I wonder how many tomato plants Bill has planted in the years between his youngest (my husband) and our youngest graduating high school. It feels right in some elemental way to mark this new phase by planting a garden. I like the idea that by the time our son leaves for college in late August, we will still be harvesting tomatoes. (And for the record, I remembered to water the garden today).