A View from the Hill: No good seed goes unpunished

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I’m not sure I like gardening.

It’s not that I wasn’t cut out for it – I was, at least genetically. One of my grandfathers had a real farm. I wouldn’t say he was a farmer, but he had a farm with cows and pigs and ponies and meadows and apple orchards. The whole nine yards, whatever that means. And he was well known for his flower gardens. So, if not a farmer, he was a gardener, and a good one.

My father, who was the son of another grandfather, one who was not much of a gardener, was also an avid gardener. He had huge vegetable and flower gardens and was always expanding them into the surrounding fields. He couldn’t wait to get home from the office and dive into his gardens.

He could grow anything. Eventually, he even had tractors.

My mother specialized in flowers and worked hard at it, although she kind of lost interest after my little brother got up one fine spring morning and snipped the heads off 52 gorgeous tulips. It must have been pretty satisfying for him. He probably thought, “Mom’s going to love this!” 

She didn’t.

It didn’t help that he had snipped them right at the top of the stem, so nothing could be done with them. He was little, and I suppose he thought he was helping. He went on to become a fantastic gardener, a worthy inheritor of my dad’s skills.

In fact, of five brothers, three became enthusiastic, talented gardeners, one could be good at it if he wanted to be, and one showed no interest. Guess which one?

But that’s not entirely fair. Dad had set aside small plots for each of us to garden. At some point I must have thought I wanted to follow in his gardening footsteps, because I remember listening endlessly on my crappy record player to a song about gardening. I still remember the lyrics.

“I till the soil,

“I dig the weeds,

“Carrots grow from carrot seeds.”

I never tilled any soil, but every spring I tossed a few zucchini seeds in there and then paid no attention to them for the rest of the summer. In September I would dig down into the mess of weeds that had been my garden, and there, like magic, would be a monster zucchini.

I would shine the inedible monster up and take it uptown to the Grange fair. One year I won a blue ribbon. For doing nothing whatsoever. This may explain a lot about my nature.

Later, I married Mary, an avid gardener. She could grow anything, inside, outside, in a pot, in the ground. In plain water. She even had an herb garden when we lived on a boat for a year. She may also have won a prize in the Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill tour. The first time she made me dinner, there were nasturtiums all over the salad.

We were married for 37 years. Through a succession of four homes and while raising five kids, she created a legacy of gardens spread across southern Maine. I helped occasionally, like when a raised bed needed to be built. But usually when I stepped into the garden I was accused of stepping on some plant, even though I didn’t, and was shooed away.

When I talked her into moving into a condo in Portland, my big selling point was its proximity to the public garden on North Street, where her talents were much admired.

When Mary died a year ago, I decided I’d honor her by taking over the garden. The first year was a success, but only because gardening friends helped me. Actually, they didn’t just help. They basically did the whole thing.

This year I’m on my own, but leaning on experts for lots of advice.

About two weeks ago, I planted a row of arugula seeds. Every day I raced up there to see the magic of little sprouts coming into the world.

Nothing but dirt.

I planted beet seeds. I planted radish seeds. I planted other seeds. 

Zilch. 

I tilled the soil, I pulled the weeds. I’d heard carrots were easy, so I planted carrot seeds.

You know what I found out? Nothing grows from carrot seeds.

Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this after all. 

But, dammit, I’m going to keep at it. I think. After all, It’s in my blood somewhere.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.