Gardeners dream in seeds. All winter those potent points of life slumber, waiting expectantly for the first stirrings of spring. Now, as the days pass the spring equinox, the light luxuriously out-stretching the dark, the gardener in me stirs. I read seed catalogs like pornography, with their promise of the perfect consummation of pleasure: the fragrant patch of basil, the unblemished bean leaves with slender pods unfurling between them, the shiny bodies of zucchini, the juicy cherries darkening on the bough.
I could spend days marking papers with squares and then filling them with the names of herbs and vegetables, sketching a riot of flowers erupting between the intensively planted beds. I plot and scheme, seduced by the catalog descriptions: Dragon carrots that ripen purple; Hidatsa beans with their stylishly speckled coats; the sweet flesh of Eel River melons that melt in the mouth. How could I not be titillated?
Today, in the barren brown of the first day of spring, I have no memory of picking aphids off potato leaves, mosquitoes swarming at sunset, or sun reddened shoulders aching in the afternoon heat. Like the amnesia that soon envelopes a newly crowned mother, I have forgotten the many seasons of labor pains that finally yielded food on the table. Instead, I remember True Siberian Kale melting in my mouth, and the taste of Purple Peruvian Potatoes mashed with garlic and unsalted butter. I recall the tang of nasturtium flowers with Forellenschloss lettuce, and herb dressing made from the herbs growing outside the back door: oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, and parsley.
I’m besotted. In the spring, I’m in love with the Earth again, a love so fresh and vital I have no room for caution, no carefully premeditated vow. I’m committed, yes; I’m blissfully, ignorantly devoted to this process of nurturing life.
You’d think I’d hesitate, even for a moment, after years of drought, hailstorms, floods, and desiccating winds. I know too much to make rash promises, to wed myself to this Earth.
Yet the love affair remains, like the unsullied love of teenagers still besotted in middle age. In truth, that’s when my love affair began. I was 13, designing a vegetable garden in the back corner of our suburban yard. I stretched strings between sticks and planted straight rows of carrots, beets, spinach, and turnips. I had globe artichokes, Swiss chard, and corn in orderly patches. Radishes and spring peas gave way to snap beans and winter squash. I watered every evening as the blaze of Ohio sun mellowed into gold, the light diffused in the humid haze of a breathless summer night. I loved weeding and caressing the seedlings, and then wading into the greenery as it reached my ankles, and later my knees and waist. My heart bloomed every time I approached the garden. I cherished that garden with the unfettered passion of first love, and the plants capitulated their joy with luxurious growth.
In August I reluctantly left the garden to work for a month at a summer camp in Michigan. I hated to leave my beloved garden. I begged my mother to let me pack two squash seedlings along with my cut-off jeans and tennis shoes. A gardener, too, she reluctantly agreed.
That summer my bedside reaching was not Dickens or dime-store romances. I was reading Peacock Manure and Marigolds and Rodale’s Organic Gardening. I had an insatiable desire to nurture those plants in every way possible. I was bonded with the garden by a love that had grown from the seeds of infatuation and ripened into a profound commitment.
The casually besotted seed catalog reader becomes beloved partner in the garden when enough sweat has mingled with the Earth, enough tears have flooded with the rain, and enough love has been wrested from the daily tasks of weeding and hoeing and harvesting. The most profound love is cultivated in the mundane daily tasks of nurturing another’s life.
Excerpted from Soul Medicine: A physician’s reflections on life, love, death, and healing by Dr. Judith Boice
If you are interested in plant medicines, check out Dr. Boice’s free report, Seven Myths About Essential Oils.