Dear Bonnie Plant Company: I blame you for this.
You sent my third-grader home with an innocuous little plant.
Like kittens, puppies and fluffy white clouds that morph into not-so-cute funnel clouds, your little cabbage was downright darling at first glance.
Who knew the panic it would later entail?
My daughter ferried it home from school cradled in her hands. It was fluffy and pale green and so sweet — like a little rose. She set it reverently upon my kitchen counter and decreed that she would feed it and care for it, and raise it for her own, if only she could keep it. What’s a mother to do?
I, no cabbage killer, agreed. This wouldn’t have been such an issue if it hadn’t been January in the north. January in the north is a climate barely fit for human habitation, let alone sustaining cabbage life.
Thus, the cabbage was destined to over winter on my kitchen counter, just to the left of the coffee pot. There I had been diligently guarding it as only a cabbage-grandmother can.
As it was free, I didn’t ask for it, and didn’t much care for cabbage, my commitment to cabbage excellence was tenuous at best. By this I mean that I occasionally dribbled some water on it from my quickly rinsed coffee mug.
In case your test gardener is wondering, cabbages can not only survive — but also apparently thrive — on caffeine residue.
There were brief forays over to the windowsill for capturing the dregs of weak winter sunlight. Here we would inevitably forget about it for days at a time, only to discover it nearly dried to dust whereupon Mr. Wonderful or I would have to surreptitiously coax it back to life through sheer will and cabbage CPR.
It is truly the Lazarus plant. It would be months before we could plant the cabbage, never mind that up to now my gardening forays had been limited – and disastrous — at best.
You say I don’t have a green thumb. I say I have the heartiest beds of dandelions and field clover around. Blessedly, the planting season finally arrived.
This meant we could finally remove the cabbage plant from its countertop perch and set it free to forage for life on its own.
Planting. For this I envisioned stepping outside the back door, plunging a spoon in the ground, digging a hole slightly larger than the yogurt container the cabbage came in, plunking it in the ground and calling it good.
Mr. Wonderful, he of the overachieving imagination, envisioned something slightly larger. By this I mean a garden plot roughly the size of Vermont. Thus was spent five glorious days of daily tilling, weeding, sod removal, rock removal and repeating as necessary to create a plot of ground outside the back door that was rich and dark with soil so silky you would actually want to eat out of it.
Into this testament of toil, sweat, and the triumph of man over nature we plunked one lone cabbage. Lost in the vast expanse of earth, it is now invisible to the naked eye.
Forget spades and clogs, does Smith & Hawken sell a microscope suited for finding your greens after planting? Now we face a bounty of choices if not eventual harvest? Do we plant melons? Corn? Beans? More greens?
Which plants play well together? Which will mature too early and prove to be a bad influence on our impressionable little cabbage? Better yet, do we have the commitment to stay the course?
To tend and trim and water and weed? To believe that from tiny seeds and miniature plants a bountiful garden can truly grow?
I have never been known for my attention to detail. I tend, in fact, to have the attention span of a gnat. I am game for big ideas, bold proclamations and the listing and planning of it all.
Then I wander off like a bored toddler leaving someone else to do all the heavy lifting. My spirit is willing but my flesh — and follow-through — is, alas, decidedly weak.
As usual, however, I suspect I will end up learning more from my children than I could ever teach them. Our daughter believes in the future of this plant.
Having been free — and wholly unrequested does nothing to diminish its worth to her. She knows that it needs us to grow. To thrive. To be all that it can be.
She’s in it to win it, as we like to say. This summer the rising price of everything will cause us to spend less money and more time at home.
Perhaps that’s the homegrown lesson for me too. That you can’t grow any living thing properly by simply throwing enough money at it. Or instructing it sternly to grow.
Rather, that all living things need care, time, attention, tender encouragement, protection from prey, and time in the sun in order to thrive and grow.
I suspect this is true of cabbages — and kids. In growing both, I’m in it to win it as well.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is raising kids, dogs, a goat and weeds in the rural heartland. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; and shares photos and more at http://kymberly.typepad.com/life.)