FORT KENT, Maine — I’ve tried, as God is my witness, I’ve tried. But in an area with a rich agricultural history and where each spring greeting is prefaced by, “Got your garden in yet?” I have to face the fact I am not a gardener.
In fact, I have an almost hostile reaction to the idea of tilling, planting, watering and weeding a small plot of productive land.
So, I have come to the conclusion there are two kinds of people in the world — those who garden and those who support the gardeners by purchasing their bounty. I am decidedly among the latter, and eternally grateful for the former.
For a lot of seasons here on Rusty Metal Farm, I gave it the old college try, and, as is typical with any venture here, not always without incident.
One year I decided, for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea at the time, to open up a new garden plot.
After trundling the giant tiller from the garage to the new site, I actually managed to get it going using the pull-start. After the blue cloud of exhaust cleared, I pointed it to the other side of the garden area and hit the throttle.
The three-foot-wide row of tines began to claw and turn over sod as we made steady and slow progress forward.
Holding on to the tiller’s handles, I walked along behind feeling rather confident and accomplished, right until we got to the other side of the garden.
That’s when I discovered the flaw in the tiller’s design — lack of power steering.
The machine kept rolling onward, almost as if with a mind of its own. It was not until I had churned up a bit of lawn and trundled a dozen or so feet into the woods that I realized all I had to do was take my hands off the controls to stop.
Since turning around seemed problematic and I did not want a garden measuring three-feet-by-100-feet, it was time to step back and regroup.
The decision was made to build several raised beds, the theory being it would be easier to control and maintain garden space if it was contained in a big box.
For a few years, that actually worked. It did not make the garden chores all that enjoyable, but at least they were more manageable.
One year, I even managed to grow enough that we were enjoying fresh veggies into the fall and it looked like there would be plenty to can and freeze for the winter.
That is, until one day I came home and saw what looked to be apples all over the yard.
Turned out, every single green tomato that had been on every tomato plant appeared to have fallen off. In the middle of them was a smiling Corky — my house dog — who had carefully and methodically harvested them all.
That was when I ran up my gardening white flag.
Luckily, I have a lot of friends who actually seem to enjoy gardening for a variety of reasons.
“I garden because I can give my family vegetables not covered in pesticides while saving money from the ever increasing prices of fresh produce,” local chef and mom Samantha Berry told me.
“It warms my heart,” Betty Ackerson of Woodland said. “As you watch things begin to sprout you hope that all grows well all season and then you wait for September to harvest it and enjoy it all fall, winter and spring.”
For others, gardening is as much food for the soul as it is for the body.
“By December I am ready to get my hands in the dirt,” my friend Tina Jandreau of Fort Kent said. “Seeing things sprout just brings hope, new beginnings, new life, possibilities and being that I only grow flowers the beauty of all the different types of flowers and colors. It just makes me feel closer to the Lord. For some reason, I find a lot of peace. As I plant things outside I have time to watch the new swallows learn to fly out of my wishing well, the deer eating my grapes and chewing on my apple trees. The groundhog can be destructive but it’s the only living being that likes my singing.”
My best high school friend Marjie Cogan, who is out in Seattle, put it a bit more succinctly,
“It’s cathartic, and then you get flowers,” she said.
Another high school friend, Beverly Gilmore out in Portland, Oregon, does share my dislike for the activity.
“I love fresh vegetables, but I hate my hands getting dirty,” she said. “I have psoriasis and the dirt gets in and dries out my hands, plus I don’t like sitting long enough to tend to a garden.”
Luckily for people like Beverly and myself, there are folks like Kris Malmborg here in Fort Kent who have turned their passion for growing things into a business to feed the rest of us, and provide himself a bit of Zen-like peace in the process.
“To me, gardening is so rewarding, watching something grow from virtually nothing,” he said. “In my approximated acre of garden, I feel that keeping it fun, involving the kids, and challenging myself to teach people the art of gardening makes it so it’s an activity I am anxious to undertake. It’s also an amazing way to clear your head, and give yourself a source of gratification which can otherwise be hard to come by.”
Even better, there are places in town like the Market Street Co-op and Bouchards’ Family Farm Store where those that do garden can sell their excess produce and those of us who do not, can support them.
It’s the best of all gardening worlds.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.