Barry, one of my fellow gardeners, reminds me a lot of one of my old teachers, Mr. O’Hagan. Mr. O’Hagan wouldn’t give you answers. But he asked you questions that led you to them. He would not tell you how to do things, but he’d guide you through your own thought process until you got there. He didn’t gush at his students, but with a well placed word he made you feel 10 feet tall.
This whole experience of getting my plots at Ivey Ranch has been intimidating from the get-go in its way. As I’ve said before, I’m a renown black thumb in my family. My mother-in-law and I used to giggle about my “dried herb garden” — my attempt at growing an herb garden in a strawberry pot that I’d seen on TV. It was dead within the month. Not just one of the plants I planted. All of them. I don’t buy houseplants for this very reason. No matter how sweet they look in the store, they turn into a brown, depressing mess the second they enter my domain.
But this seems to have changed somehow in the past few months. Maybe it’s just that I finally get the wonder of it all. I finally understand those people who stop and smell the roses, pet the alyssum, and admire the inside of an iris for minutes on end. It really is, in a word, glorious. Creation is happening all around us still — no longer perfect but still stupendous, brave, and amazing when you stop to consider it all.
My husband, Ryan, is a tolerant man. He helps me cart my 20 tomato seedlings back and forth from the apartment courtyard every day and doesn’t complain about them all sitting on our laundry hamper in the evenings where it’s warm next to a little lamp. He smiles about my avocado seed which I couldn’t bring myself to throw away and is now sprouting in a glass of water in the kitchen on the sill next to a six-pack of okra seedlings and a six-pack of cranberry bush bean seedlings I’m hoping will start soon. He doesn’t say a word about the strawberries I have sprouting on one side of the kitchen sink. Maybe he understands how the newness and awe is so important to me now. I think he does. He’s that sweet kind of man.
However, all of this does not mean I know what I’m doing at all. When I find bugs I rack my brain trying to decide if they are good or the kind I should consider killing. When I see things sprouting in my garden I didn’t plant I let them go for a few days until I’m positive they are weed-like and not veggie-like. This sometimes takes a few weeks for me to figure out. I even grabbed a handful of nettle one day and stung myself with it to a ridiculous degree because I thought it was mint. You get my drift?
But Barry just stands there and smiles at me while he pounds in rebar and trims his beautiful beet greens. He asks me things when I come to him with questions instead of answering me. He says things like, “Well now — where did you think you’d go with it?” or “So tell me then…what did you have in mind?” Then he listens and encourages and leaves me to my own devices.
Today we talked as I walked Eamonn through the plots looking at plants, lizards and flowers. “Look at what your neighbors did, Barry!” I cried, staring at a freshly tilled and composted plot that had been overgrown with weeds last week. “Yeah…people are gettin’ the bug to work hard around here. Maybe they feel like trying to garden like you, figured a little hard work wasn’t going to hurt anybody. You’re inspiring people girl.” I sputtered and blushed and didn’t know what to say.
Later on he told me, “I’ve been coming and checking on this plot of yours and I’d say you figured out you know what you’re doing!” I beamed from my tomatoes and peppers and squash.
How do people learn this trait of building up instead of tearing down? Of guiding instead of directing? I’m sure I don’t know but I love it when I see it in action and feel blessed when I’m the recipient of it. I hope to model the way I interact with Eamonn, Ella and others who come across my path with that gentleness and insight.
Today I left Ivey Ranch feeling 10 feet tall.