Gardening With Red Suspenders

By Laura Miller | March 15, 2021
Image by firina
by Laura Miller
March 15, 2021

Not so many years ago, I was an advisor of a moderately large 4-H club. It was an immensely satisfying volunteer position in which I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful group of  youth members as well as their incredible parents and families. 

Periodically, one of the club member’s families would host a meeting, activity or event at their home. I always enjoyed seeing where “my kids” lived. It offered a side view to the world where these youth worked on their 4-H projects, whether it be raising chickens or sewing a skirt.  

Green With Envy

While on one such excursion, my green-eyed gardening monster came to full bloom. Yes, I was extremely envious of my 4-H member’s family garden. Volunteering has its perks, but one of the downsides of donating one’s time for the benefit of others is having far less free time for oneself.  

For me, this meant less time gardening. I used every shortcut I could imagine when it came to planting and tending my vegetable patch. My rows were never straight. I piled on newspaper and grass clippings to control the weeds. And worst of all, I’d planted my veggie plants close together. 

Reducing the space between plants gives less room for weeds to spring up, but it doesn’t always produce the most attractive looking plants. Not that this should matter. After all, it’s production and yields that are the most important, right?

Yet something deep inside me always wanted that picture-perfect garden. You know the type. Like what one might see on the cover of a gardening magazine from the pre-internet era. An iconic garden filled with perfectly straight rows of large robust vegetable plants surrounded by crumbly dark, weedless soil. 

Yeah, we all know the benefits of mulch. But seeing a photo of a tomato or cabbage plant poking up from fine, loose soil looks so much healthier than one surrounded by grass clippings or wood chips. Plant photographers know this. That’s why one rarely sees mulch around plants in seed catalogs. 

A Picture Perfect Garden

Yet there I was, getting the grand tour of my 4-H member’s property, when up popped Mr. Green-eyed. Spread before me was the most iconic, picture-perfect garden I’d ever seen. Fit for any magazine cover or seed catalog, this garden looked as if it were ready for a talented plant photographer to stop over for an afternoon photo shoot. 

Rather than allowing myself to be consumed with jealousy, I looked around for a reason why this family had what I wanted. And I didn’t have to look far. Standing at the edge of the garden, outfitted in red suspenders, was Pop-Pop. 

My 4-H member’s grandfather lived with the family and judging by the smile on his face, the garden was his pride and joy. And rightly so! This picturesque garden was the craftsmanship of a retiree. A person who had the time to accomplish a goal which for me was unattainable. 

As I looked forward to my own retirement some day, my jealousy faded. I pictured myself working in the garden. Yes, I too could have that iconic garden. And hey, maybe I’ll even don a pair of red suspenders to celebrate! 

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