With temperatures starting to warm up, environmental journalist Simran Sethi takes it outside! She's in the middle of a yearlong project to remake her Kansas house into a green home, and it's time to tackle the garden—with a little help from her friends.
I secretly relish the cuts on my hands. They sting when they touch water, and reopen slightly each time I stretch my palm. But these cuts were born out of hours logged in my yard—clearing brush, cutting away vines, tugging at weeds. I don't know what I'm doing, but the flowers seem eager to school me, the seedlings intent to grow despite my clumsy touch.
Yesterday, I didn't know how to plant anything. Today, the cuts that grace my palms and the turgid bulbs poking out of the dirt, reaching for the sun, are proof that I am a gardener.
I experience life cycles: the dried creepers, the blooming daffodils, the nascent redbuds. I cultivate patience: digging small holes for tomatoes, willing tulips to blossom. The draw of the soil, the lure of trying to coax something from the dirt, can come only from doing. It requires will and faith. My friend Carol explains, "You can do a lot to get good tomatoes. You can dig the right-sized hole, put the plant in composted soil; you can fertilize and water and put the plants in cages to direct their growth. But some factors, like the rain and temperature, you can't control. And when you get big, juicy red tomatoes, you feel incredibly proud, even though you know you didn't really make the tomatoes. You only helped."
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This yard teaches me about interconnectedness and interdependence. Not only in the way things grow, but in the support required to grow them. That is why I decided to open up my yard to those who have the skill but don't have the same space or access to soil that I have. Yard-sharing takes many forms and is happening all over the world. It enables me to grow food, get to know my neighbors and use parts of my yard that would otherwise need mowing. I don't want to grow grass. I want to grow plants and flowers that feed my body and nourish my soul.
My friends Annie and Mason drafted up a simple contract detailing when they could have access to my yard, how we'd share inputs (they bring seeds, I provide water) and how much of their harvest I could take. Annie said one of her goals was to show me this could be done. Then Mason pulled out a handwritten list of foods he planned on planting—potatoes, onions, squash, strawberries, cantaloupes, beets, carrots, peppers and more—and catapulted me into gardening heaven.
I am still at the stage of planting flowers from bulbs and trying my hand at sprigs of rosemary, basil and thyme. By opening up their harvest and allowing me to work alongside them, Annie and Mason are transforming how I think about food and how I think about myself.
Today, I am a gardener,
Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit SimranSethi.com and follow her on Twitter @simransethi.
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Published on April 27, 2010