A failure in a family of fine British gardeners, I received my rejection notice from the Rock Creek Community Gardens philosophically.
"You applied for a plot too late," said the letter. No doubt the hierarchy at Rock Creek knew about my agonizing attempts at agriculture: the stubby carrots, the two-leaf lettuces.
"Never mind," said my father on my daily visit to his hospital bed. "I always grow more than enough for all of us."
From his hospital window, we silently watched the gardeners planting petunias and pansies around the walkways. "Your seeds came today," I said, remembering the little brown Burpee box that had come with the mail. "Do you want me to start planting for you?"
"No, no, no." he said gently, "there's plenty of time for me to do that."
That Thursday, very unexpectedly, my father died.
In the face of such a great sadness, it was the Burpee seed box that was most unbearable. I knew so well how carefully he chose the seeds, computed the cost, anticipated their arrival. I moved the box around my father's house . . . not throwing it away . . . not taking possession of it.
"Give the seeds away," suggested someone.
Then the letter came. Rock Creek Gardens was going to split up some new plots. The family was harnessed for hours of digging and hoeing. We took my father's seed box and looked at the varieties he loved . . . French Breadbasket radishes . . . Green Ice lettuce . . . Tenderpod and Topcrop beans . . . and a Snowhite marigold. He always hoped for a pure white marigold.
I gardened in the sunshine. (In fact, it was such merciless sun it fried us instead of the zucchini I had hoped to produce; we turned the hose on each other a lot.) I gardened in the rain, remembering that transplanting can best be done in the rain. I gardened with menacing thunder all around me . . . in air thick with bumblebees. I came home at night looking like a coal miner.
Then up from nowhere came the army of plants. Knocking each other over, the radishes took on the lettuce. I lost count of the leaves. The tomatoes hung heavy. Little striplings of beans emerged in dozens from their purple flower houses. I could see the zucchini from the parking lot. The plants crossed over into my neighbors' plots. I fed my family. I fed my friends. I froze a lot. I thought the produce would never end. And around it all was a triumphant flourish of marigolds--all of them yellow.
I finally took my place in the family gardening tree, started centuries ago in the English Midlands. I took my father's brown Burpee seed box and made it into a sort of permanent keepsake box. It seemed appropriate.