Garden writing is a rather unusual sub-genre, part memoir and part fantasy. You do, you dream. Gardening is all about should and ought; nature is governed by its own laws, and we are struggling to keep or subvert them. Exploring the existential effects of our ‘original profession’ has, on us mere mortals, produced some worthy and insightful reading material over the years. Karel Capek, the early 20th century Czech writer — and coiner of the word ‘robot’ — was an avid gardener who understood the struggle, or more accurately, the compulsion. To wit: “Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.”

I started all the plants from seed for my first vegetable garden, no store-bought transplants for me. That was the genesis — add a level of difficulty to the nearly impossible. I wasn’t discouraged, though. Armed with a childhood of watching PBS’s The Victory Garden at my grandparents’ house, I was confident that I had a good grasp of the basics. A hundred pound pumpkin later, my fate was sealed. Phase Two: I discovered my great-grandmothers back issues of Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine. The garden, I proclaimed to myself, will henceforth be organic. And it was so. I have no idea why I am talking like this, but it’s possibly because, at least in my mind at the time, these choices mattered. From organic I moved to heirloom. I was a member in good standing of the Seed Savers Exchange, an organization devoted to preserving old varieties of vegetables. All heirloom all the time, no new-fangled hybrids for me. Then, in open defiance of myself, I started breeding my own varieties of plants. Law increases the trespass, as it is said.

 Not to build you a clock to tell you the time, but let’s just say that when Capek says, “It is an insatiable passion,” I know what he means.

Occasionally, I have this dream, a gardener’s dream, and it’s the same one every time. I notice a gap in the overgrown fence line near my vegetable garden. I walk through to discover another vegetable garden, even bigger than my own. In my dream I have a vague memory of planting it but had somehow been forgotten over the course of the growing season. There is a slow-dawning horror as I realize the garden had been neglected past the point of harvest. All the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are covered with a bumper crop of rotten fruit. Frost had come; there would be no second chance.

That may sound like an odd nightmare to most people, but to a gardener, who invested time and care into raising those plants, that degree on wanton waste is horrifying. I was sitting here writing this and literally gave an involuntary shudder at the thought. In other words, it’s about time to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this puppy. And yet, predictably, the dream has nothing at all to do with gardening. It gets at one of my biggest fears; being a bad steward of my potential — what I should have done, what I could have done. In my dark moments, I think of Judgement Day; to look with piercing and painful clarity at your life. Can one do that and remain sane? (I fear I’ve drifted rather “Lovecraft takes on Law and Gospel” there, for a minute. Moving on.)

The Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer has a Confession of Sin that puts its finger on exactly the reaction that particular dream causes in me:

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done.
The beautiful thing is, the done and undone, it is finished, finito. That wasted garden of my potential, well, let’s just say the USDA zone map doesn’t have number for the Psalmist’s triangulation of where Christ relocated it:
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
With that remedy for garden nightmares applied, I’ll leave you with an image from Karel, of what our gardens look like, sinner-and-saint-style:

I’ve found a place that would amaze you. People used to live there, but now it’s all overgrown and no one goes there. Absolutely no one — only me… Just a little house and a garden. And two dogs.

Gratuitous Bonus Track. INFJ’s and Enneagram 4w5’s will appreciate this.