I love the idea of gardening: working outside, communing with nature, nurturing new life and watching it grow.

Unfortunately, I suck at it.

I wouldn’t say my thumb is black…but maybe a deep shade of gray.  In Crayola language, I might be Smoke or Gunmetal.  Or Raw Umber.

I don’t deem myself a total failure…last year, I had some modest success with our first vegetable garden.  I even produced enough tomatoes and basil to make (with the help of my friend Lynne’s Italian mother, Marie) my own sauce gravy sauce.  This made me feel very earthy and kind of sexy and decidedly less Irish/French Canadian.This year, however, with the house on the market, I knew the sad reality was that a vegetable garden might put me over the edge add further complexity to an already stressful time of transition.  This apparently was a wise decision, because suddenly I can’t even keep a cactus alive.  I am like the Botanical Grim Reaper.

Because seriously – who kills a cactus?

My mom, always quick to let me off the hook, argues in my defense: “It has been so hot, everyone’s plants look pathetic!”

Yeah,right.  Here are my “plants”:

 And here are my mom’s:


Pathetic?  I think not. Mom’s thumb isn’t just green; in Crayola language, it would be Fern. Or Asparagus. This is a picture of one of her houseplants. My cousin Stephen calls it the “F*** You To The Rest of Us” plant.  Especially those of us who have killed a cactus:“Oh, it’s not me,” she assures us modestly. “It’s my special plant spray that makes the leaves look all shiny.  I’ll buy you some from Home Depot.”

“That would be awesome, Mom, if I actually had leaves to spray.   Is there a special spray that actually makes the leaves NOT DIE?”

She sighs.  Obviously the proverbial apple fell far, far, from the tree. And then rotted.

While she is too humble to admit it, my mom’s plants are magnificent not because of some magic pixie dust from the Depot, but because of her consistent TLC.  She brings her favorite plants on vacation because she doesn’t trust them with anyone else.  Phil and I went on vacation last month and didn’t even bring OUR KIDS.

The point is, she puts in the time.

I (clearly) have not put in the time.  Because right now, I don’t HAVE the time.

In the book The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett says: “Two things cannot be in one place.”  I recently spent time with my college friends at a wedding, and I noticed a common theme running through many conversations. The general consensus from both my female AND male friends was: “I feel like I am trying to do everything, and then end up sucking at everything I do.”

“Two things cannot be in one place.”  Yet we still try.

We still try to be all things to all people: the driven professional, the patient spouse, the perfect parent and helpful friend…and then beat ourselves up mercilessly when we fall short of our own self-imposed standards. (Because while society might put the standards in our heads, we are the ones that put them on our own shoulders).

My mom says that gardening is equal parts time, patience, and failure trial and error.  Sometimes you water too much, other times not enough.  Some plants wither from too much sun, others from not enough. Perhaps you planted your tomatoes too close to the cucumbers, or maybe the soil is not ideal for eggplant.  Maybe one year the peppers are awesome, and the next year they get strangled by the steroidal pumpkins.  You learn, you adjust, you try again -but only after you have identified the optimum conditions for growth.

I don’t think we need to give up the dream of the garden – I am a firm believer in having it all.  I still want to have the kids, the husband, the writing career, the house, the dog, the yoga practice, the friendships, the time for solitude and time for service. I just don’t think I can have it all in the same day….or year.  Or maybe I CAN have it all, but it ain’t always going to be pretty, and it sure as hell ain’t going to be perfect.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” -Francis Hodgson Burnett

My mom swears by whispering lovingly to her plants.  I am pretty sure she doesn’t include the words, “You SUCK!” Rather than thistle-ing ourselves silly, and berating ourselves for all the things that we do wrong, maybe the key to growth is to focus on the things we do right.

So while my garden may look like this….

….my best creations seem to be holding up just fine.

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