Friday, May 26, 2023



The instructions said it would take about an hour to set it up. It took me considerably longer. I’m kind of a perfectionist about such things. I wanted all the corners to be absolutely square and all the screws straight with their tops beneath the surface of the wood.
Now my raised bed garden is standing solid in the back yard, filled with soil and veggies. Anxious for the first year of productivity, I have planted two kinds of lettuce, spinach, pepper and peas. I’m hoping it stands high enough to discourage the squirrels. Since they climb the clothes pole to steal bird food, maybe they will climb my bed leg to steal some peas.

The logo on the side says, “Expert Gardener.” We will see! Maybe this bed will get more “tending” as I don’t have to get on my hands and knees, or bend over very much.

My gardening experience started young. I’m not sure how old I was. I couldn’t have been more than three or four as I remember riding my tricycle fast to show off for my older sister’s friends; and crashing and crying, more embarrassed than hurt. We lived on the Main street of a small New York town. It may have been distorted by the eyes of a child but it seemed like our neighborhood had huge back yards. Our immediate neighbor to the west owned our ball field. Every night in good weather, I hurried out after dinner to join the other kids. Our back yard was our garden. I remember helping, especially weeding and picking. As the harvest came in, there were days where my mother was canning.

I was in high school and college when we had our next family garden in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was also a back yard affair, between the house and the railroad tracks. I don’t recall spending much time in it. I was too busy with school and work (earning my way through college) and social life.

The first garden in married life came in MA where we had our first home on a hillside. The garage was built into the hill and provided a nice flat space for a garden on the roof. That was where I planted vegetables. Lower level spots of the side yard had been planted by previous owners in flowers and we continued that tradition. I don’t recall the vegetable garden being very prolific, but do remember it providing the burial ground for deceased gerbils; to enrich the soil, I guess.
This was also where I met my master garden host, who invited me to plant at his country home. His pole beans were so tall you needed a ladder to pick them. Mine barely inched above the ground. At the end of the growing season he looked at my plot and said, “Carl, your garden is an example of why so many of our forebears starved to death.”

When we moved to MD where I worked for Hood College, our house was on the campus. Two blocks down the street was an old farm the college owned. They converted the barn into a student residence and the land next to the old farmhouse into a community garden. We had a plot. It was not the most productive. I blamed it on all the others who were using pesticides and some secret ingredients to discourage the rabbits and raccoons; who all seemed to gravitate to our garden; digging and pawing and chewing whatever grew. Not to mention our feast for bugs and insects.

Moving to Brookings, for several years we tended a plot in the community gardens. These were probably our most successful years growing vegetables. It was also a “community” garden. One had a chance to meet others; perhaps get a tip or two about what would help the squash or what tomato is producing the best yields. There were still animal encounters. Weekly deer tracks occurred one year, not stepping lightly or avoiding promising growth.

Lately, it all takes place again in the back yard. Flowers bloom from spring into the fall. Vegetables occupy a gradually growing space near the compost pile. There is enough room for some cucumbers growing on a trellis and a dozen tomato plants. There’s nothing more refreshing in the summer than a vine-ripe tomato sandwich, picked from a plant in the back yard.

Sometimes the human world is too much with us. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but there seem to be many more dog walkers in our neighborhood. Several of our neighbors are also busy with backyard gardens. Getting close to the animal and plant kingdoms can alleviate stress and restore a sense of equilibrium when the news of the day depresses, rather than encourages. Having your hands in dirt that gives promise of new life; sharing water that sustains life; and watching green growing things prosper and provide nourishment for human life; can enable us to better weather the ups and downs of our daily life. We don’t have to be an “Expert Gardener” to reap the benefits of gardening.   

Carl Kline

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