Almost two years ago I decided I wanted a vegetable garden. I was tired of growing tomatoes in large pots on my deck. I’m Italian/Sicilian and we’re supposed to grow our own veggies and make homemade pasta sauce – and I do, but now I wanted to do that on a larger scale. And I wanted to one day be the proverbial little old Italian lady in the neighborhood that spent all day in her garden and was always up to something, albeit in stilettos and a sundress!
With my flower garden just about complete I began researching how to build a vegetable bed. I didn’t like any of the ideas I saw and the ones I did like were far too expensive. So, like many times before in my life, I set out to do it ‘my way’. I went to the lumber store and let my imagination run wild. I asked two employees for some help and explained to them what I wanted to do. One gentleman was very eager to assist me and began giving me quite detailed instructions on how to build a vegetable bed that I’m certain would have resembled the Taj Mahal. Another employee suggested I just visit the produce section at Wal-mart. Somewhat discouraged, I thanked them for their time and decided I was going to have to do this completely on my own. As I was leaving, I saw a large pile of wood outside that I thought would be perfect for my project. They were landscape timbers and because they were ‘less than perfect’ they were marked down in price. Now, I am a master in the fine art of negotiating, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. I’m also a single mom on a budget tighter than bark on a tree, so I was going to have to really work my magic to get the 15 landscape timbers I needed for my vegetable bed for less than $1 each. I think it was Lord Chandos that once said, “Flattery is the infantry of negotiation.” And I would have to agree.
Before I put my negotiation skills into high gear, I made a quick trip to McDonald’s. I had a gift card that someone had given me and I used it to buy three large sweet teas. If you aren’t from the south, Sweet Tea is considered the “house wine” of the south and many will argue it is the only way to drink tea. I’m a California girl, but I have to agree, there is no other way to drink tea. None. So, with my latest acquisition in hand, I returned to the lumber store and went up to the three gentleman working outside. Before I continue, let me add that if you approach three men working outside in July, in Alabama where we have humidity higher than a 1950’s beehive hairdo and you are bringing them sweet tea with ice, you could ask them to do just about anything and they will say ‘yes’. I gave them their drinks and explained that I needed 15 landscape timbers. They showed me the ones that were in perfect condition but I explained that I wanted the ‘misfits’ – the ones no one else wanted. One of the guys laughed and commented that he had seen me in here before, and how I always head to the back of the store where the almost dead plants are. He wanted to know why I did that. I explained to him that as long as there is still a sign of life, then they deserve a chance. I suppose it’s a little silly, but it makes me sad to see all those plants sitting on racks about to be tossed away because they aren’t as pretty as some of the other ones. And I enjoy bringing them back to life, often in as little as a week. I also see it as a challenge and I most certainly love a challenge. If you have seen pictures of my garden in my previous blog posts, I want you to know that all those flowers, every single one, were almost on their last legs when I planted them – yes, even the roses. I have bought plants that were originally priced at $15 to $20 for $.75 – and some I have been given for free. They are now all blooming and beautiful.
The men told me they wouldn’t feel right selling the ‘misfit’ timbers to me because in some way they were damaged. I told them not to worry about it, that I knew what I was doing (I didn’t) and then I asked them to make me an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse. They laughed and asked if I had ever seen “The Godfather”. I showed them the Italian flag sticker on the back of my truck and jokingly told them I had cement blocks and rope in the back and asked them if we could hurry this along or they would be ‘sleeping with the fishes’. When all was said and done, I left with twenty not so perfect landscape timbers – total cost: $5. To this day, they refer to me as the ‘sweet tea lady’ – it’s funny how some friendships are formed in the most unique ways.
That was almost two years ago. Those timbers sat in the side of my yard through countless rain storms and through many of my life’s storms, just waiting to be put to use. And last week their time had arrived. Armed with a hammer and some very large nails, I set out to build my vegetable bed. I had planted some vegetables from seed earlier in the year and they were more than ready to be put into the ground. I learned very quickly that hammering nails the size of cigars into wood takes a lot of muscle. My project was going to be a little more labor intensive than I thought. From start to finish, it took me three days to complete and as much as I hate to admit it, the last part of my vegetable bed was completed by a few neighborhood kids that I have known since they were five years old. On their way home from school, they heard me ‘talking’ quite loudly to one of the nails that refused to go in straight and they came over, while laughing, to see what was going on. Before I knew it, the negotiation tables had been turned. They said if I made them baked ziti for dinner, they would finish the vegetable bed and mow my lawn, front and back. I’m no fool, I knew I was coming out on the sweet end of this deal, so I agreed, of course, letting them think they were the winners in this negotiation.
My vegetable bed is now complete and I can’t wait to construct a second one very soon. I’ve planted three varieties of cherry tomatoes, some red bell peppers and of course, lots of herbs. There is even a climbing rose-bush as the back drop. At the request of the boys that helped, I’ve also planted spinach and the second bed will have watermelons. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this project, how it got the kids involved. They feel a sense of accomplishment in having helped me that day and I’ve seen them walk past the vegetable bed on their way home from school to see how the plants are doing. You just can’t get that kind of feeling from a video game.
I know not everyone enjoys gardening, but everyone needs to have that one thing that they can just lose themselves in. For me, gardening is like playing – I’m a child again. I am curious, creative, messy, I try new things knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no big deal. Why do we lose that as adults? We need to tap into our inner child every chance we get, I don’t care how old you are. Two days ago it was pouring rain and I was sad because I wanted to be outside in my garden. And then I realized, so what if it’s raining, I’m not sugar, I won’t melt. So out I went in the rain and walked around my garden in bare feet getting soaking wet – and I loved it. I picked some roses, checked on my newly planted vegetables and even purposely stepped in some puddles – it was fun – the silly kind of fun that I don’t think adults participate in nearly enough. But I do, every chance I get. One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou, and one that holds quite a bit of truth, is this, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Now, all of you know how I handle a rainy day. When I arrived in Italy years ago and a day before my luggage did, I used that as an opportunity to put my limited knowledge of the Italian language to use and set out on the streets of Rome to find all the things I would need for the next 24 hours. I did this alone – my first time in another country and I didn’t know a soul. It was the most empowering and liberating experience I’ve ever felt and I loved every second of it. And tangled Christmas lights, let’s just say that I rival Clark Griswold in that department and that’s definitely another story for another day. Maybe a rainy day after I’m done splashing in the puddles.