The gardening angels visited me again recently. They come as if by magic: one part sweat, two parts dirt, some under the fingernails, a pinch of earthworm.
As I pulled out my drying, dying tomato plants, I thanked each one for the wonderful harvest and delicious salads all summer. Then, the hard work of weeding began.
Because of heat, mosquitoes, and I admit some laziness, my lovely vegetable garden had become overgrown with a variety of weeds: dollar plants, mimosa weeds, Johnson and rye grass, and some I can’t name. A herbalist once said that “a weed is a plant whose virtue has not been discovered yet.”
So as I laboriously pulled weeds overgrowing my little patch of earth, I started communing with the gardening angels. As I peeled away the mantle of weeds, lo and behold my Greek and Italian oregano was thriving underneath, as was thyme, volunteer basil, and sage. The kitchen sweet fragrance of the herbs as they kissed my nostrils made weeding an aromatherapy experience.
The next thing I noticed was how the soil was alive. After Hurricane Ike, my little garden patch was a sand dune suitable only for fire ants, maybe a few radishes but little else. Now after six years of composting, soil development, fertilizing, it is a living organism rich with earthworms, soil bacteria, hummus and organic material.
It moves, breathes and gives life. Whoever buys our home, now on the market as we seek another island view, will have a much enhanced plot of land to till and to call the gardening spirits.
As an undergraduate, I studied the microbiology of marine and soil bacteria. Their complex role in rejuvenating and sustaining the environment is much like the healthy bacteria in and on our bodies that protect from disease and illness. There are billions of microbes in the soil that convert chemicals and elements like nitrogen into usable sources for plants and humans. Letting them do their natural thing is one of nature’s invisible miracles, like keeping our human microbiome in balance, which promotes good health.
And then there are other wonders. My 6-year-old inner child delighted when I flushed out an emerald green grasshopper, then a similarly-hued gecko. It’s a jungle in there — so amazing that a small plot supports so much variety of life. And the weeds, if we still want to call them that, seemed happy, healthy, and deeply rooted in doing their weed thing, protecting, covering, aerating and flourishing. I am glad I didn’t spray them, not only because it might have affected my vegetables, but the web of life underneath.
As I dug, I unearthed some self-blooming onions given me by JC2, a good tennis buddy. They were doing what self-propagating onions do, propagating. I stuck them back in the ground and let them get back to work. Even unearthed a few French breakfast radishes and found a couple season-ending tomatoes.
I thought about several friends of mine who are wealthy enough to buy out the whole organic fruit and vegetable section of Whole Foods on any given day. They all take time to plant and harvest, the ancient rhythm of seasons coursing through their veins, though they certainly no longer need to grow their own vegetables for sustenance.
Maybe there is another reason, deeper than the dirt, deeper than our hunger, and fruitful as life itself. It is called, as Pearl Buck’s novel was named, “The Good Earth.” Stay grateful for her, take care of her, and she will care for us.