This summer I had a most disgusting garden experience — the kind they don’t tell you about in those cheerful books and glossy magazines. It was back in August. August, the month when bushels of harvest fill your counters and freezer. August — when I had to trash our 30 tomato plants.
Oh, my tomatoes have gotten blight before. Tomato blight’s a tradition in the North Carolina mountains. Each summer, it blackens leaves and stems, starting at ground level and working its way up, doing its best to outpace frost for the honor of destroying your plants.
But this year—a summer of all rain and no sun — the blight vaulted up the vines. In only two weeks it turned my entire planting into a wall of leafless black twigs. Then it attacked the tomatoes themselves, turning the fat, green fruits into black-blotched balls, balls that soon dropped off and metastasized into globes of fetid mush.
Those fall fruits smelled rank, strong enough to drive me out of the garden. So I donned some work gloves. I pulled vines and shoveled rotting pulp. Gagging, I dumped it all in the farthest corner of the property.
And all the while, I hated gardening. Sure, it has its good moments — but if you have to do stuff like this? No thanks, Bub. Not for me!
My temper then turned on kids — the fruits of ourselves. Boy, children will mess up your life a lot more than tomatoes. Forget having kids! Or love. Whoo — plenty of downsides to that. Marriage? Other people? Total bummers. Work? What a drag. Life? Not a chance!
Whoa — hold on a minute! I mean, what would my suicide note say? Goodbye, cruel tomatoes?! That was it — I started laughing. The whole sequence of renouncements suddenly became comical, and I instantly realized how worthwhile all the activities and commitments of life are. Indeed, the vegetative disaster area in front of me suddenly strengthened my resolve to go on gardening, parenting, loving — in spite of all the foul moments.
You know, it’s a funny thing about gardening. I don’t think it gives us new insights, teaches new lessons. Rather, it keeps reminding us of those basic, down-to-earth things that, often as not, we tend to forget.
Next year, I’ll use black plastic mulch to keep soil from splashing up on the vines. I hear that wards off blight pretty well. I’ll try that.
Pat Stone is the Editor of GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” the magazine that shares the personal side of gardening. Visit our website at www.greenprints.com.
Illustration by Linda Cook Devona