Container Gardener No More

by leighvincola

There it is, my empty garden plot. Waiting for me to tend to, to grow things, to nurture into life. 2013 is the first season in a long time that I will put plants into the ground albeit, a raised bed. The last time I did this, it was a similar community garden plot in Cambridge. But even that, as many have, was a one-season garden, I moved on from that neighborhood; moved out west, back east, overseas and on and on. My perpetual movement has caused me to be a perpetual container gardener with no ground to call my own. Front steps, rooftops, back decks and the street that lined my front door. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs, beans, flowers: whatever grows in a vertical direction. Space was never something I had a lot of. A lot of watering. And that’s just the way it has been for a long time. A makeshift garden that was constructed and reconstructed in different locations every year. Production has been mediocre. Forget perennials. I was in a sense, just like my plants, rootbound, with not enough space to dig in and stabilize. The pots only so big, my surroundings lacking the permanence for me to blossom into anything.

But this year is different.

This year I have an empty slate in front of me. It is a slate made up of soil that actually needs turning, in which I can splice my garden spade down deep and turn over the earth. It is not a garden that I have watched lay fallow over the winter and carefully designed while the snow flew in New England. Actually, this garden is not something that I’ve really had any connection to before now when I forked up the $45 and took ownership of plot number 7. So it’s not just a fresh start in that it is spring and we get to do it all over again, but a real honest-to-goodness beginning. A chance to break out of the patterns that have bound me and begin to unravel my roots.

The tentacles of these roots began to be loosen up when I moved to Providence six months ago but a long, confusing winter in which I lost my father, kept me cocooned as I rearranged things in my mind, body and heart and learned what it means to grieve. It was a strange way to move to new place—not exactly an immediate sinking into place–but I found enough hangouts and people to keep me warm and comfortable while my father’s final chapter unfolded through the winter. It’s spring now though and while I am still grieving, there is room for those roots to finally grow outward and down, and begin to take hold of something lasting. I am pretty sure, it will begin in that garden.

I know this because I feel patient in a way I never have before. I’ll grow what I grow this year, get it in when I get it in, and not fret that it’s all going exactly right. The seed catalog arrived from Johnny’s the week before my dad passed away. I didn’t get to it. There’s a lot I didn’t get to. There is no haste because I am not going anywhere-that perpetual movement to cease. There is always next season in this place and the one in which my garden goes in my own backyard, directly in the ground, and I can look at it longingly from my winter frosted window. The roots will be strong by then, spreading still, no longer limited by structural constraints.

During my fathers illness, although the prognosis bleak, he began reading up on growing grapes and building a grape arbor. An intellectual prone to symbolism, my father often expressed that making plans for future gardens meant that life would continue on. I feared in his case, this spring planning was in vain and perhaps, deep down, he did too. But it didn’t stop him. On a small scrap of paper he drew out his garden plans, including the grape arbor. As he was dying, I told him that I’d keep his project going and tucked away his weakly depicted sketch inside the DIY gardening book he had recently ordered.

The book sits on my bookshelf. One day I will be rooted enough to enjoy the previous season’s wine under the shade of my productive grape vines in late summer. One day. For now though, this plot, this season, is my start.