The world of seeds and soil calls to me at the dawn of each spring when daffodils bloom. It is an annual ritual of rebirth, not only for Mother Earth in all her glory, but for me as well. I was born in early March, and every year for the past 44 years, beginning in the ninth year of my SCI at age 29, I have started seeds in fresh potting soil or native earth.
Seeds are nothing short of miraculous. Each tiny capsule of energy, so unimposing in dormancy, holds a wonderful surprise of unique size, shape, smell and color. But the allure of the garden wakens in late winter when the seed catalogs arrive in the mail. I spend days browsing the catalogs looking for interesting vegetable varieties to grow and eat.
Striped German tomatoes have unsurpassed flavor and beauty with their red cores and yellow-orange marbling. Romano beans are often overlooked in favor of green beans, but the flavor of romanos is nutty, unique. Baby corn varieties, if you have the space (they need as much as regular corn) are sweeter than the sweetest corn. And romanesco broccoli grows in a spiraling geometric pattern that comes right out of fantasyland.
It’s not just about the colors, shapes and flavors. The textures and aromas of a diverse garden are actually therapeutic. For a while, my wife and I delivered bags of fresh basil to local customers. Driving on a summer day in a car filled with fresh basil is bracing, invigorating, intoxicating.
But the real joy is in the midst of the garden, with the smell of rich earth, fresh air, the textures and colors of multi-layered plants waving in a gentle breeze, and earthworms, ladybugs and birdsong. And of course, bordering the food plants, flowers. So many different colors and patterns, many of them attracting beneficial insects.
When my wife and I first got together in 1974, we decided to move from California to Oregon, to make a new beginning in a new land with a new dream. My inspiration came from one of the most famous gardeners ever — Henry David Thoreau — who wrote about his time living in a small cabin on Walden Pond: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Pursuing our dream, we rented our first apartment in the country upon arriving in Oregon’s Rogue Valley in the spring of 1974. The first thing I did was select a garden site, plop myself down in the dirt, and start digging with a short-handled shovel, scooting along as I dragged my wheelchair cushion beneath me. We grew our first garden there, and each afternoon until dusk we took drives, looking for a small acreage to buy. We had no money to speak of, only our shared dream, imagination, and hope.
We rented seven different apartments or small homes in six years, working odd jobs and teaching, always driving and searching for our dream acreage. Wherever our quest took us, every spring we planted seeds, because every garden is not only an anchor in the present, it also represents a new beginning, a promise of renewing life.
In 1980, we bought a small farm south of Portland in the Willamette Valley. Our first year on the farm we grew a large garden. The next year we expanded to a one-acre U-Pick business. Two years after that we plowed new ground and expanded our U-Pick to a small-scale organic farm, specializing in lettuce varieties, tomatoes, basil and a variety of fresh vegetables, delivering them to Portland restaurants and organic markets.
From then until now, nearly 38 years, most years we made a modest profit, and some years we made nothing. But it was never about the money. It was about cultivating our dream.
Where there is a garden, there is sustenance for the soul.