When I’m Not at My Desk

I’m in the Garden

When I was a little girl, my parents had a vegetable garden at the bottom of the yard. Every summer, they would harvest and can what they grew, so we had home-grown vegetables all winter long. We stored the glass jars in a cupboard in the basement and even though I hated to go downstairs alone, it was a treat to choose the vegetable for dinner.

I remember sitting on the back steps with my sister, a bowl and a brown paper sack of green beans between us. My fingers always got tired, but I never minded snapping beans. The ends went back into the bag for the compost pile and the short pieces went into the bowl for Mom to can, except for the ones that made their way into our mouths. I still love the crunch of raw beans.

Eventually, Mom and Dad gave up the vegetable garden and that was the end of those steamy summer afternoons spent canning in our small midwestern kitchen.

My first house was a rental, but I couldn’t stop myself from planting a few blooms in the beds next to the front door. Every time we moved, what made the new place feel like home was working in the garden, editing out plants I didn’t like and putting in my favorites: lavender and roses, rosemary and sage. I still plant those, but now I like to try new plants, too, especially natives and drought tolerant varieties like California Lilac and sun drops.

This year, I made small raised bed for vegetables. Over the winter I grew radishes and lettuce; in the spring, carrots, onions and peas. What fun to check on the progress of my seedlings every morning, to stain my fingers pink harvesting radishes, to nibble on pea pods out in the yard.

I love the time I spend outdoors getting dirt under my fingernails, even if I’m only pulling weeds. It’s mostly mindless work. My eyes find the unwanted plants and my fingers ease them out of the ground while my brain is busy working out plot problems and imagining scenes. I can’t draw or paint to save my life, but planting a new bed lets me play with shape and color.  Perhaps even more importantly, I rest my eyes on green plants and work out the kinks in my muscles after too many hours spent staring at a computer screen.

Gardening gets me outdoors, keeps me moving and is cheaper than a gym membership. It’s the perfect complement to my writing life.


Filed under Art, Gardening, Plot, Writing

18 responses to “When I’m Not at My Desk

  1. Shary, I love the way you insert details into a piece. To me, they’re always in the right measure, if that makes any sense. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) says that when you’re blocked, go do something else creative. Big or small. I agree. When stuck on something, one of my “something else’s” is staring into space. I sometimes say, “I may look like I don’t do much, but trust me, I’m always doing something.” Thanks for another great post. I really enjoyed it.

  2. Susan McBeth

    Shary, this is wonderful. I just came from a yoga writing workshop, which worked from the same concept: clear your mind and the creativity flows. Gardening is a perfect way to achieve that, and it shows in your work!

    • A yoga writing workshop sounds marvelous. I can’t wait to hear more about that. I’m still working on clearing my mind while doing yoga. I don’t know why it’s easier for me to let go of my thoughts out in the garden, but it is.

  3. Your description of gardening and of snapping beans with your sister was as crisp as those beans. I remember snapping beans with my grandfather. He would get after me if I snapped off too big a piece on the end because it was wasteful. I still think of that when I’m snapping fresh beans. Great writing, Shary.

    • It’s not easy for little fingers to get the pieces just right. Eating the “mistakes” is a good way to hide the evidence. I’m sure my parents didn’t mind, though, since one way or another, we were eating our vegetables.

  4. Love this Shary! You brought me right back to your childhood, I could see you timidly heading into the basement (who knows what creatures lurk in dark basement corners?) , snapping green beans with your sister, and watching the canning process in the sweltering summer kitchen, with pots boiling away cleaning, then sealing canning jars. I love your garden today and how you are able to use it for sustenance for your body and a retreat for your mind. Beautiful!

    • Thanks! It’s so great to be able to get my veggies from the yard instead of having to run to the store. But lately I’ve been thinking that my garden isn’t quite big enough. I might have to expand it next year.

  5. I love it Shary! As you can tell from my pumpkin post, I really want to start growing our own veggies and herbs. Something about harvesting my own food sounds so exciting and rewarding. I applaud you for doing this!

  6. anita carol smith

    I enjoyed your piece about gardening and I can see how the physical nature of it is a great balance to writing at the computer screen.
    On your advice in your last post, I read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It was fun being in his world and of course, I was pulling for him to end up with….well, but I don’t want to reveal the plot in case someone else hasn’t read it. 🙂 Anitra

  7. anita carol smith

    ps The wisteria images are gorgeous.

  8. How charming, how peaceful and how lucky you are to have space for a garden. Your memories of you and your sister are warm and delightful, and reads like poetry. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. Shary, the say gardening is very therapeutic. My mother swears by its powers. I think that channeling your energy, it doesn’t matter how, allows for creativity to make a new entrance into our lives. We’re able to see plot, plan, and create. I’m envious of your little garden. Living in a walk up, I can only sigh as I peer below and see the downstairs neighbors tanning in theirs. 🙂