This spring I decided, in a fit of fecundity, to plant a garden on my balcony. When I called my old buddy Don, an actual gardener by profession, to tell him my idea, there was at first a long pause in our conversation and then he just laughed and laughed.
“Remember the Rose Bush?” he said when he could gain back control of his voice.
This time, it was my turn to pause the conversation. I did indeed remember the Rose Bush. I put those last two words in capital letters because, well, the Rose Bush, is no longer with us. I need to show it some respect and capital letters is about all I can muster. That sad plant gasped its last breath in an insanely short time after being placed into my trembling hands. It was a gift from an acquaintance who does not know me nearly as well as old Don. As soon as she gave it to me, I knew that plant was doomed.
“You killed that Rose remember? “he said. “Are you telling me you are going to inflict yourself on an entire ‘garden’?”
He had a point. Despite my best intentions, my Rose Bush…well…croaked. I tried watering it, and then I tried not watering it so much, which (who knew?) is a thing. Even roses apparently can get into serious trouble if they drink too much, just like humans. I tried fertilizing it with these plant stick thingees only to discover they were the wrong kind of plant sticks. When the poor rose bush developed gray mouldy stuff on its leaves, I tried spraying it with a special fungicide I found in Rona. All fungicides are not created equal, and, again, this was the wrong one. After about three weeks, my Rose Bush was reduced to a dried-out stick with a couple of pale leaves dangling desperately. It was done. Finally, I performed a little ceremony, said a little prayer, and tossed it, pot and all, in the bin.
But this time it was different. I had reformed. I might not be capable of forming human relationships and taking care of them just yet, but I was up to giving it a go with a plant or two.
I decided to start out slowly. There would be little sense in my sowing a hectare or three, especially since my balcony is only twelve feet by four. Just a pot or two would do for now. Something hardy would be best. Something Paul-proof.
Radishes! They would do nicely.
Determined to do things right this time, I read up on radishes. I found out they have a fast-growing cycle which makes them a perfect choice for a children’s garden. Presumably because children have short attention spans and limited patience. Perfect. So do I. I also found out you can sow more than one crop a season. Also perfect. If I screwed things up, I could always try again.
I found out there are many different varieties to choose from and I picked French Breakfast because I liked the name. It gave plain ordinary radishes a certain ‘cachet’. If you are going to grow something, it might as well be something high class. So off I went to Garden Works to pick up some seeds and chew the fat for a while with other fellow farmers. Loaded with much needed advice, I went home and carefully planted my seeds slightly below the surface of the soil, just like the package said.
In the history of human agriculture, I do not believe there has ever been a domesticated plant watched over with such care and trepidation. I stopped short of dragging my sleeping bag out onto the balcony to keep my seedlings company at night, but I did go check on them whenever I woke up just to say hi. I didn’t want them to feel lonely. In the morning I carefully watered them – not too much, not too little. I also, ahem, talked to them now and again which my Garden Works’ buddies said they liked. I chose my words carefully and kept my tone bright and cheery. Nothing wilts a radish more than a harsh phrase like, “Come on you vicious bastard, grow!” No. My radish chat was comforting. Encouraging. Loving. I was a farmer with a heart.
I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see the first tiny signs of radish-life poking their little heads above the soil. Nor can I explain the exhilaration on seeing the actual radish popping out beneath the ground a couple of weeks later. Within three weeks or so, I had my first crop!
I lovingly harvested them and carefully washed the soil off as if they were freshly born babies. I must admit they looked damned good. True, there were only five of them, but I said I would start out slow.
I couldn’t wait to show my buddy Don my accomplishment. Whipping out my cell phone, I took photos from every possible angle and sent them to him via the magic of texting. I admit I did gush on a bit about how gardening was a spiritual activity, connecting me to the Universe in ways too mystical to explain. I told him that doing this garden thing had changed my life forever. From now on, I walked on a much higher metaphysical plane than most lowly folks who did not know the joys of growing plants from seeds.
His reply was both laconic and to the point, as behooves all true gardeners.
“Paul, they are just a bunch of radishes.”
Oh, but to me, they were so much more!