Bad gardener!


I’m a bad gardener. I get out there and plant things, sure, and my gardens aren’t unsightly or anything. But it’s clearly not my special skill. They’re never manicured. The flower beds don’t have color year-round (or barely ever). Nothing has a water feature. My vegetables often do not grow properly. That garden up top? Not mine.

I’m pretty much okay with all of that.

When we were lucky enough to live in Mrkopalj, Croatia, last year, our neighbors in the village gardened like crazy. Jasminka and Pavice and Andjelka and Zjelko were really good at it. Those skills had been passed down through the generations and they were necessary to defray the cost of really expensive groceries. Plus, people liked knowing where their food came from, after hearing horror stories from more “developed” countries.

But I’m self-taught when it comes to the garden. I’m good at lettuce, because it doesn’t need anything but planting. Same with tomatoes, though my success rate is spotty there because they also need cages and occasional eggshells around the base, and that’s officially Complicated. I don’t read books about gardening. I don’t try to Improve. Until the economy bottoms out even further, or Michelle Bachmann is elected, my gardening success will be allowed to remain marginal at best.

That’s fine by me. I’m in it for the outdoors time, and to get my hands plugged into the dirt for a recharge. It’s fun to grow things, even if I’m not an aficionado.

This is not me.

I do a lot of work for magazines, which show off people’s houses and yards when they are literally picture-perfect. I’m going to go ahead and confirm what you already know about that: It’s a myth. I’ve been to those photo shoots, and pretty much only that very precise area being photographed looks that good. Then the cameras get put away, the family dog pees on the floor, a kid dumps out a bunch of markers, or someone spills coffee on the white slipcovered couch. Soon, the natural chaos of the universe returns. It’s not as perfect as it looks. Never is.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s been nice to happily accept that I will only be good at a few things, and everything else is just screwing around for fun. I’ll get out in the garden when it works for me and the kids, time-wise. My house isn’t up to the latest trends, nor will it ever be. My chef skills are limited to Things That Zadie Will Eat, which revolves around unadorned meat and cereal and yogurt without chunks. (I am naturally gifted at parallel parking, so that doesn’t require any time or attention. It’s more like a magical skill bestowed by God, really.)

But there are a few things that command real attention. I want to be good at having a family, so I work hard at that, and it dominates most of my thoughts. I want to be good at telling you stories, and this is a close runner-up in the daily-thoughts category. Good books and music also get a lot of my time, because they inspire the other two things.

So that’s it. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with Sam and watching birds, which I’m also not very good at, but I like asking other people about. I own a few birding manuals, but mostly I bought them because the pictures are so pretty, and looking at birds makes me happy, even if they’re just sparrows. Or that asshole bluejay that bullies everything in the yard.

I’ll never be an expert or anything. And I’m super okay with that.

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