We didn’t do gardeny things growing up in the small suburban town of Campbell, situated in Northern California. Except my older brothers, they were supposed to cut the lawn. One was assigned to the back and the other to the front. But, they rarely did. Only when my mom threatened them did they pull out the push mower.
My mom didn’t really have time to garden. She was a widow with four children and worked full-time. She had gardening experience growing up in Germany during war times. I remember salivating with envy when I heard her stories of climbing up the cherry trees on their property to harvest the fruit. She told us that she would get stomach aches from eating too many cherries. I also marveled that my mom climbed trees: I didn’t know moms could do that.
On some rare summers, when my mom found the time, she would plant some seeds and seedlings. I remember once pulling out radishes and being disappointed with their shockingly bitter taste. As for the other vegetables, mostly birds, snails, and other bugs ate what tried to grow. I don’t recall my mom ever presenting us with a dish made from the produce from her garden.
One rare occasion on a summer day, when I was ten, my mom came home with several six-pack containers of purple violets. She invited my younger sister and me to garden with her. I remember my excitement as we walked to the front lawn area. I also remember my disappointment when my mom handed me a garden tool with instructions to pull weeds scattered in the grass. She called it crab-grass. I dutifully did as told, in anticipation of being rewarded with the opportunity of taking those pretty little purple flowers out of their containers to gently place them in the hole I would dig by myself with that small hand shovel my mom was holding.
To my great disappointment, while my sister and I pulled weeds, my mom planted all those pretty little purple flowers! She said that they were too delicate for us to handle. At ten years old, I decided gardening wasn’t fun and never gardened again until I purchased a home in Novato in 1996 when I was in my mid-thirties.
Now, about seventeen years later, I love gardening! I have planted fruit trees: fig, apple, lemon, orange, and mandarin. I have perennial artichokes, potatoes, and asparagus. I always have strawberries, sunflowers, and tomatoes in the summer and broccoli, chard and kale in the winter. Many times I have garden tragedies, always centered around not watering enough or the birds and bugs getting to my seedlings. But, each year I learn new tricks. And the weeds: I still get them. Ironically, I enjoy weeding too. It’s a form of meditation: I reflect on those weedy things in my life as I pull out the weeds in my garden. To successfully eradicate them, the conditions need to be right and I cannot rush nor take shortcuts with my techniques. Yes, I learn many life lessons in the garden. And, I proudly serve meals to my son from my garden produce.
Everyone should have access to soil to plant their garden and grow food. There are also many life lessons in the garden, it is healing and, yes, even fun. This is why I have worked tirelessly these past seven years to grow school and community gardens in Novato. The job’s not done yet: with your help, we can succeed, grow food, and grow community. Visit our Helping page to learn how you can help.
Please share your garden stories with us and we will post them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veronica C. Valero
Founder & Volunteer Executive Director
Novato Live Well Network/Novato Community Garden Project