The prompt from Gayla at You Grow Girl to write about my garden mentor was surprisingly difficult for me. I tossed different people over and over in my head and came to the initial conclusion that I don’t have any gardening mentors. Well, at least not any nearby. Or that I’ve met. I mean, I read a lot of gardening books.
I have read a lot of gardening books. I count Gene Logsdon as a mentor, but he doesn’t know who I am. And then–lucky for this post–came that dose of reality, whereupon my naive, egotistical self realizes that it’s not my outstanding creativity or intuition that led me to dig a garden with the confidence that I could fill it with plants (although that would certainly be awesome). My plant knowledge was handed down to me, so I better show some respect!
Annie was my first garden mentor. She taught me how to plant a seed and install drip tape and run a water line from the pump in the creek to the berry patch. And stake tomatoes, brew beer, and raise chickens. And identify elderflowers while driving 60 mph on the highway. Oh, and eat a real breakfast.
Annie, being as driven and determined as she was (apparent in these harvesting-by-headlamp photos), wasn’t the most hands-on mentor unless I was overcooking my eggs. Since she always had fifteen important tasks happening urgently all at once, she usually would tell me what to do but not necessarily show me. Even when there was time for them, her demonstrations were hurried; she’d explain something in as few words as she thought necessary and then go hop on the tractor with earmuffs and head down the mile-long driveway to mow. I’d head off to my appointed task with a walkman and a rotating stock of herb conference cassette tapes.
I had just finished college the year before meeting Annie, spending four wonderfully long years sitting in rooms discussing things and reading like my life depended on it. I was utterly inexperienced with anything having to do with gardening or self-sufficiency. Yet despite my graduate condition, Annie took me on as an apprentice and threw me right into the chaos of her 100-acre solo farm adventure. Not gonna lie, learning to grow plants and “garden” on this scale was extremely stressful. I was overwhelmed with to-do lists and constantly paranoid of doing things wrong (I was “in charge” of the berry patch and cluelessly brought the black raspberry bushes to their knees). But to give myself some credit, there was a learning curve.
I knew nothing except city life and studying when I arrived on Annie’s land. After just one growing season, however, I departed with practical knowledge and an intense commitment to growing plants wherever I landed. I had also worked my way through about twenty herb conferences. I had more gardening knowledge than all my friends and family combined, which isn’t saying a lot (but it’s saying something about my background!).
Perhaps it was because Annie was always so busy that I learned mostly by doing, rather than by sitting and reading, or being too nervous to dive in. Planting my first seeds ever, with no supervision and only the most basic instructions (“don’t forget to label the rows”), seemed insane and destined for failure. Yet against all odds, those seeds germinated and I was hooked. A seed’s will to live trumps everything. My lack of experience was not the end of the world, and my self-doubt was unnecessary. I was still just a human planting a seed, in the long history of humans planting seeds. Thank you, Annie, for the opportunity to trust my innate gardener. Thank you for sharing your trust in Nature.