Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

My First Garden

Pam Bailes

When we’d been married several years, my husband, Scott, and I purchased a beautiful parcel of land to build our dream home on.  As a special bonus feature, the acreage had space for the garden I’d been yearning to plant.  We moved into our house in February, and I was outside marking the boundaries of my garden with string and raking the loose rocks and dead branches out of the area on the first warm spring day.  When the area was cleared, I approached Scotty.

“Sweetie, do you think we can borrow the tiller from Marge and John? If we break up the soil in the garden with that, it’ll make things much easier for me to work in the mulch and fertilizer.”

Marge and John were our next door neighbors. This fortunate couple owned the Rolls Royce of garden equipment, a gasoline tiller. Scotty was in love with any sort of machine powered by gasoline, and I knew the idea of borrowing the tiller would catch his interest. I’d learned a few things in my seven years of marriage, and I knew that I could count on this suggestion to convert ‘my project’ into ‘our project’--at least until the garden was tilled.      

“That’s a great idea! John already told me I could borrow it when we get ready to do the garden. I’m sure they’ll loan it to us unless they have plans to use it today.  I’ll go over and ask now.  We should get an early start.”

Yep, I knew my guy!

Fifteen minutes later he was back pushing the ungainly machine before him.

“Look at this baby! I can’t wait to see how it works. John said just to take it slowly and it would do the job. Wonder what he meant by that? Why do we need to go slowly? Oh, well, guess we’ll find out,” he said.

We found out all right! 

Scott fired up the machine and set it to churning the soil in my garden area. Fifteen seconds later there was a horrible screeching noise and Scott jerked the machine back and killed the engine.

“What in the world was that?” I asked.

“I think we hit a rock,” Scotty replied.

Sure enough I could see it peeking out of the slightly stirred soil. Using my shovel I managed to pry it out of the hole. 

As I tossed it to the side I said, “There, try it again.”

He started the engine again and this time he managed to advance eighteen inches before the horrible screeching sounded. 

Killing the engine once again, we both moved forward to peer down.

“There!  It’s another stupid rock,” Scott said, pointing to the offending obstacle. 

Once again I pried the rock out and tossed it to the side.

By the time we had played out this scenario three more times, my husband and I had reached the same conclusion. As beautiful as our land was on top, just below the surface it was the acreage from hell. Two hours later I was beginning to wonder if I’d have enough soil left to support a garden once all the rocks were removed. By the time we finished we were soaked with sweat and weary to the bone.  I was also pretty sure Scott’s love affair with the tiller was over.

During the next few days my enthusiasm for the project rekindled as I prepared the soil, bought seeds and tomato plants, and planned where the various vegetables would go. When everything was finally ready, I spent a morning on my knees dropping the seeds at the appropriate intervals and then sat back to admire the miracle of nature at work. 

The first thing I noticed was that Mother Nature was partial to weed seeds. It seemed they had been placed on the fast track while the seeds I’d planted took their sweet time sprouting. Moreover, when shoots finally appeared they were not wearing nametags so I spent more hours on my knees trying to decide whether the tiny green shoot that had appeared overnight was an infant green bean plant to be treated with tenderness or an evil weed I should pull up by its roots.  

Once the green shoots had grown enough to make the distinction clear even to my unpracticed eye, I had a different problem. The instructions on the seed package instructed me to thin my squash plants to four or five per hill once they were well established. This seemed criminal!  I’d worked so hard to get them to grow. Eventually I steeled myself and culled them, leaving a mere seven atop each hill.  The two extra plants were a mercy I would come to regret.         

As my garden grew, I was forced to face certain unpleasant facts. Take my carrots. The business part of my carrots was below ground, but even I could see that the tops of these babies weren’t keeping pace with the rest of the garden. My onions were looking a little anemic too. Apparently root veggies didn’t like this heavy clay soil. It also quickly became clear that I hadn’t allowed enough room for lettuce. At the rate it was growing the family would be restricted to two very skimpy salads a month.  The broccoli and cauliflower looked fine, but I hadn’t allowed enough space for these either. The good news offsetting this unpleasantness was that the beans, squash, cucumbers, creme peas, okra, and tomatoes were finally outstripping the weeds and growing by leaps and bounds.    

In late May I began to harvest the food I’d worked so hard to grow, accepting graciously the compliments of my family as I served them delicious salads and vegetables from my garden.

“Mom, the tomatoes are yummy! Are there any more?”

Tomatoes were a favorite of my youngest, Tiffany.

“Yeah, they’re great Mom, but I want some more of the green beans. I’ve never had any so tiny and tender.”

Tracy always knew the right thing to say.

“Good stuff, Honey! I guess all that work was worth it.”

This comment came from the tiller-man who had given up a Saturday to my project. 

By the third week, I felt like a drowning sailor.  I was inundated with vegetables. Green beans and squash in particular were legion and night after night they’d appear on the table as I struggled to stay ahead of the harvest. The natives began to complain.

“Are we really having green beans again,” my youngest would ask in a disgusted voice as she sat down at the table.

“I’m tired of squash,” my older daughter would chime in, spotting the dish as she pulled out her chair.

Eyes sweeping over the dishes on the table Scott said, “You look tired, Honey. Why don’t we go out tonight?”

By the fourth week I was packing up bags of vegetables to take along whenever we saw our friends.   

“Here, Julie. I brought you some of the stuff from my garden,” I’d say as I smilingly handed over a huge grocery sack of squash, cucumbers, and green beans.

“Wow! Thanks so much, but we can’t eat all this.”

“Oh, well, share it with your friends then,” I’d offer graciously.

I found myself scouring my address book for friends we hadn’t seen for a while.

“Scotty, why don’t we see if David and Joan want to come over for some bridge. We haven’t seen them for ages.”

“I know. That’s because they moved to California. Remember?”

Then almost overnight the heat of the Texas summer sun began to wilt both plants and humans and the harvest tapered off. Within a couple of weeks the formerly lush green area resembled a wasteland where the discovery of an overlooked squash was a rarity. 

My garden was finished for the year, but I’d acquired a wealth of knowledge from it. I learned that a zucchini overlooked and left an extra day on the vine becomes an inedible giant overnight. I learned that picking okra without gloves makes my hands itch for hours, and that birds love tomatoes almost as much as my family does. I learned that the second and third stalks of broccoli that develop after the main stalk is harvested are much looser and smaller than the first and won’t make a meal for four people. And saddest of all, I learned how fleeting is the bounty provided by a garden.  

Such lessons might cause some to lose interest in gardening, but I continued planting mine each spring for years. I never lost the excitement I felt as the leaves of some new experiment peeped above the ground.  Although I soon knew what would flourish in our inhospitable soil, each planting season something I hadn’t tried before would pop into my mind. I’d begin to wonder how it might do and invariably I’d weaken and plant a little, just to see.


Pam Bailes' writing credentials are limited to awards in short story contests.  A graduate of Trinity University, she worked as a teacher and a realtor before moving to Arizona where she owned a small business. Her volunteer work has been with the Phoenix zoo, animal rescue, and the community theater.  

© Pam Bailes

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012