We are at that time of year when zucchinis are being freely shared at the office, people are swapping tomato sauce recipes, and blueberries are being given away at the farm.
It is at this time of year that I really start admiring the gardens. Our little container garden has produced lettuces, rainbow chard, and basil for months now. The flowers that surround our yard continue to bloom as the maples leaves and the sumacs begin to change colors. All summer the plants have encouraged us to get outside and stick our hands in the dirt. These gardens have done much more for us than just being a gardens that produce food.
Gardens can be places where memories are made and where families can spend time together. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), the author of the children’s classic Peter Rabbit, wrote “We have a little Garden” where she promotes the joy of gardening.
“We Have a Little Garden” by Beatrix Potter
We have a little garden, A garden of our own, And every day we water there The seeds that we have sown. We love our little garden, And tend it with such care, You will not find a faced leaf Or blighted blossom there.
This poem was originally published in Potter’s 1922 book, Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes.
Edgar Guest is another poet who wrote about the joy of gardening. However, he took on a little bit of a different tone.
“Plant a Garden” by Edgar Guest
If your purse no longer bulges and you’ve lost your golden treasure, If at times you think you’re lonely and have hungry grown for pleasure, Don’t sit by your hearth and grumble, don’t let mind and spirit harden. If it’s thrills of joy you wish for get to work and plant a garden! If it’s drama that you sigh for, plant a garden and you’ll get it You will know the thrill of battle fighting foes that will beset it If you long for entertainment and for pageantry most glowing, Plant a garden and this summer spend your time with green things growing. If it’s comradeship you sight for, learn the fellowship of daisies. You will come to know your neighbor by the blossoms that he raises; If you’d get away from boredom and find new delights to look for, Learn the joy of budding pansies which you’ve kept a special nook for. If you ever think of dying and you fear to wake tomorrow Plant a garden! It will cure you of your melancholy sorrow Once you’ve learned to know peonies, petunias, and roses, You will find every morning some new happiness discloses.
And while Guest suggests that we will find happiness every morning in our garden, Karina Borowicz provides us with a more introspective look at the garden.
“September Tomatoes” by Karina Borowicz
The whiskey stink of rot has settled in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises when I touch the dying tomato plants. Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots and toss them in the compost. It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready to let go of summer so easily. To destroy what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months. Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit. My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village as they pulled the flax. Songs so old and so tied to the season that the very sound seemed to turn the weather.
“September Tomatoes” can be found in Borowicz’s book Rosetta. This book has been well received by critics and is a finalist for the 2021 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize.
One thing that I find interesting about these three poems is that they bring us through the life cycle of the garden. Beatrix Potter shares the careful intention needed when planting a garden, Edgar Guest takes us through the both the daily joys and ongoing struggles of trying to keep a garden going, and Karina Borowicz writes about the end of season chores and the internal conflicts one can go through as they get the garden ready for winter.
Bur perhaps what I find the most interesting is the abundance of metaphors for daily living. I think Borowicz’s poem seems to stand out in this way, especially if we consider the impact of that last stanza. With that stanza, Borowicz shifts the reader’s view from the tomato plant that is in front of us, to the plants many generations before. I re-read the poem with that stanza in mind and began to wonder about the symbolism behind the pale flowers that might still bear fruit. Then there is the plant that is being tossed in the compost. As a gardener would know, good compost is a vital tool in creating a bountiful garden. So, in actuality, these end of the year chores are just the beginning of next year’s harvest. And perhaps Borowicz is talking about this process in both actual and metaphorical terms. Maybe, she is asking us are there things that we can say goodbye to today that we can compost for a more bountiful harvest tomorrow?
A special thanks goes to Kit and Alexis at Season by Season for introducing me to a few of these poems.
- Potter, Beatrix; Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes.
- Guest, Edgar; “Plant A Garden”. Quoted in SeasonbySeason
- Borowicz, Karina; Rosetta
- Borowicz, Karina “September Tomatoes” Quoted in PoetryFoundation
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