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This is the beginning of a series within a series. As you know, I present essays here on things that people love to do and feel passionate about. Gardening is a a passion for so many. I have asked a few people to share their gardening stories here. I will also share mine soon as well. I can't wait to hear about how others find peace, challenges and wonder in the garden.
I feel so fortunate that someone so busy as Ari has made the time to be the first, but not the last, to write about his gardening experience. I am grateful for the time that he considered what gardening means to him. I think that he illustrates in his story that we all have to begin our interests somewhere. No one starts as an expert and one only learns through challenges met and conquered (or not!). That's gardening.....and here Ari's story. Thank you, Ari!
PS. If you are a gardener and would like to add your voice to this page, please be in touch!
GARDENING by Ari Leeds
I first started experimenting with a garden after my first year in my old house. Not only did I benefit from the impressive produce that my neighbor had been handing me over the fence, but I actually had a gated garden area on my property complete with composting bin and surrounded by fruit trees left behind by previous owners. However it hadn’t really crossed my mind to resurrect it in any way since it was a dense, grossly overgrown thicket - I figured I would either let nature reclaim it or level it as an extension of my backyard. But, the incredible bull's heart tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplants, kale and crisp cucumbers just kept coming my way, over the fence as Joe, my neighbor, didn't want any of the excess to go to waste. This was good stuff - really good. It was almost disappointing to have a salad made from bland, grocery store bought, veggies. In addition, it seemed so gratifying to pull your own food from the ground so I started to inquire about getting started with some basics and how to prepare for the next season.
The following spring I got some gloves on and pulled together some lawn equipment determined to make a dent in my jungle and make space to get a few plants into the ground. It was a lot of work to clear just the first few square feet but I found some treasures along the way that kept me intrigued even in this laborious process. The jungle had treasures. As I began digging and tearing, the air filled with amazing aromas as much of the growth, it turned out, was oregano, mint, strawberries and blackberries all mixed with different vining plants like ivy and roses. As I dug through the earth I found large square pavers, lattices, and tomato cages all buried from the old garden. It was really something to uncover this secret gift that had been behind for me to discover. I probably got just 50 square feet cleared away when I decided that I should probably start small and I used the pavers to make a boundary between my cleared area and the rest of the mess. I used some old wood beams and bricks to create a makeshift bed, dropped in some tomatoes and zucchinis from the nursery and my first day of gardening was complete. When I looked up, I realized that I had been out there for about 14 hours straight. Layers of jackets and sweatshirts that I had shed throughout the day were hanging in the branches as the sun set and as I started to clean up I realized how much I had truly enjoyed the process. I started with the end result in mind but quickly started seeing this as a way of life - a therapy in the dirt, away from technology and man-made burdens - just working with nature.
As the years passed I discovered a small world of neighbors and friends of avid and novice gardeners that enjoyed the process just as much as me. By year 2 or 3 my entire jungle was completely transformed with purpose. I had a large variety of vegetables at this point, experimenting with different planting techniques. Playing with watering, soil, companion planting, plant rotation, sun position timing; it was a wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking challenge trying to get in sync with nature. Did I overwater? Is the soil lacking nitrogen? What should I do with vine borers? How do I attract pollinators? How should I prune? How do I protect my precious work from deer and rabbits? Sometimes the payoff would be huge and sometimes it would end in lessons learned the hard way. But the knowledge gained along the way made me feel connected to the earth.
The garden is one of the few places and times where I feel completely present. It teaches focus, patience and gratitude. And it pays you back. The taste of the earth in freshly picked, home-grown food is incredible and extra satisfying. The sweat, blood and dirt that goes into it is like therapeutic meditation for the mind and body. Now, about 8 years into my gardening practice, knowing that this is such an important part of my life, I strive to do more - my curiosity about balance in nature has only grown. So, this year we have added a flock of 9 chickens to the mix along with an assortment of flowers, wild grasses and other native plants. The chickens produce eggs for the family, and nitrogen-rich manure for the garden while they gobble up and compost scraps, ticks and poison ivy. Of the plants and flowers chosen, some were picked to attract bees and hummingbirds while others were chosen for maintaining soil composition and pest control. It’s getting quite complex, but it's all part of the fun and the journey learning to work with nature and inject myself into the cycle as a receiver and a contributor to that cycle. I hope someday to start saving and storing my own seeds, propagating my chickens and creating a rich environment to live in harmony with that feeds itself and brings peace to myself and the land where I live. But, for now, I will continue to live in and enjoy the process, sharing in the fruits of my labor with family and friends and hopefully passing some skill along to my children along the way.
Over the years…
Ari Leeds is married and the father of two. He is a business owner, software developer, and a consultant. Ari loves cooking and gardening and generally working outside; snowboarding in the winter and would live in the dirt all day, every day for life if the bills were paid.