A fledgling gardener, I am a wide-eyed kid on a daily basis as I watch my garden grow. Yes, the cantaloupe seeds sprouted, even when I was sure they wouldn’t. I picked more than two dozen baby lemons, their tart scent clinging to my fingers, because the precocious tree they came from is too young–it needs to put its energy into roots, leaves, and branches. My grape plants, purchased during a freeze, unplanted for weeks due to a move, finally sprouted. In fact, I’m amazed at the plants and trees, so sad after a series of rare Houston freezes, that now produce new growth, new hope, and a tenacity I wish I had.
I’ve learned that gardening, like life, requires that I accept a certain amount of mystery. Take, for example, my broccoli. Please. Since I’m new at this, I purchased four plants, all from the same nursery, all about the same size, and I cared for them exactly the same way. One of them went crazy and has become the Scary Mutant Broccoli Plant in the garden. We didn’t know if we were ever going to get the actual vegetable, or if the plant instead was destined to become another tree in the back yard. The first head is finally growing, and I’m thinking I may not need to get out a ladder to harvest it. SMBP threatens to overshadow my golden sweet peppers, though they seem to hold their own, tolerating their bully neighbor.
While SMBP threatened to take over the entire garden, two other plants, perhaps intimidated, rolled over and died. I had watered, I had fed them rich, organic fertilizer, I had mulched, and yet they couldn’t hold on.
Which leaves, of course, one last broccoli plant, and this one intrigues me. It’s little, having followed in the path of its deceased siblings, but it didn’t die. In fact, it bravely boasts a few new leaves. It will never match the ferocity of SMBP, but maybe, just maybe, it can grow. I have lowered my expectations. You don’t have to produce any fruit, just don’t die, please. Hang in there, and let’s see where this can go.
My writing, my characters, tend to resemble the mystery of my two broccoli. A new story is emerging, and with it a character, Claire, who has seized the story and made it her own. Yes, she says, I know you’re making an ensemble cast, but one of us has to be in charge, and it’s going to be me. My other characters, who are softer and less dominant, struggle to survive. Still, I think we’re going to get a nice harvest from this story. It feels as though I can hear what it needs from me, and I am stronger in my commitment than I used to be. I feed, I water, I sing to it, and maybe it will grow.
Less successful are Blood and Loam and Patchwork. A completed, harvested book, Patchwork struggles to find an audience, and I have had to admit that even the most beautiful fruit rots when no one eats it. Granted, there is much more I can do, and I am stubborn enough to keep finding ways to let people know it exists, and that it’s worth purchasing.
B&L has a different problem: it doesn’t fit in with the rest of my writing garden. I have made halfhearted attempts to find an agent for it, but truth is, I don’t want to be known for this work. It’s too disturbing, too violent, too much at odds with what I want to contribute to the world. It is a pesky invader, a plant I can’t remove. I haven’t given up on this one, though, either. Once I finish a draft of the new novel, I’m going to dig up B&L by the roots and replant it. I think I know a different way of telling the story, one that retains the drama without requiring that I compromise who I am in order to sell a few books.
One never knows what the garden will actually do. All we can do is plant, feed, water, and observe. Listen in the stillness to what the plants need to thrive. Keep the weeds pulled. Invite the butterflies, the hummingbirds, bats, and bees, but let them come in their own time, when the milkweed expands and blooms. Know that sometimes, the plants will die, while other times, they will awe us with their capacity to survive. And the fruits? Those are the extras, a byproduct of the act of sowing.