Globe Syndicate

for release March 9, 2001

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Lessons from My Green Thumb Neighbor

My 82-year-old gardener neighbor, Letha, is looking through seed catalogs, pursuing not only her hobby, but her living. She and her husband Charles supplement their small retirement income by raising vegetables and fruit to sell at the local farmer's market. She gets as excited looking through seed catalogs as my daughters get looking through Delia's (teen fashion catalog).

Letha always tries to tell you there is nothing to her green thumb. She asks me if we have tried to raise big long watermelons. (Like the kind you buy in the store, which is kind of ironic because of course they are not raised in the store, but in somebody's field. But I say big long store-bought watermelons because even my father, expert gardener that he is, never had any luck trying to raise big long watermelons. He would specialize in the thin-rind little sugar baby watermelons, which were good but not quite the same as the big ones.)

Anyway, the gardener tells me, oh, there is nothing to raising the big watermelons. You just poke 'em in the ground and that's it. "Except that you have a green thumb," I remind her. So what makes a green thumb? What are the tricks she's not telling me? "Of course you have be on the watch for bugs, and get the bugs off." Ah yes, of course. The plot is already thickening.

"I think mine kind of always rot in the garden before they develop," I offer weakly.

"Oh you have to plant them where you get a good run off, in a slanted part of the garden," she adds. Of course.

"Well my whole garden is on a slant," I say.

"Then you have to put them near the top, where there is run off, and not down near the bottom, where the water might gather." I reflect on the last time I tried to raise watermelon and yup, they were right at the bottom of the garden, down where the water would collect in a wet season.

So there is a lot more to it than just poking them in the ground of course. Somehow the topic rolls around to fertilization, and I admit that it has been years since we put any horse manure on our garden.

"Oh yes, you gotta keep it fertilized, makes a big difference," she says. "If you don't have manure, you might plant soy beans or hay in the fall, just to have something to plow under in the spring, which nourishes the ground too," she mentions.

Plant soybeans? Hay? Hey, we just do a little gardening-we don't pretend to be farmers. "We don't really raise anything anymore except beans, corn, tomatoes and green peppers," I say limply.

People who have green thumbs, or cook by scratch, or drive straight to hard-to-find places usually claim there is nothing to it until you start to dissect all that there really is to it.

This gardener-neighbor has taught me much over the years. She knows gardening the way I know writing-maybe better. She doesn't stop and think about the fact that you have to poke them in nourished ground in the right part of the garden and be on ever-vigilant guard against bugs before you can ever hope to even get a blossom on a watermelon plant. Then it takes weeks of patience for the thing to grow, then finally to ripen. And how do you know when to pick a ripe watermelon? It is one thing to pick them in the grocery store. (I use the old tried and true hollow thump test). To not only grow but not pick it prematurely takes the insight of an immortal being. I would regard it as something akin to a miracle if a big long watermelon ever grew to fulfillment under my care.

But my neighbor gives me the urge to try again. She knows, as I do, that ultimately we plant and nurture, but so much is out of our control. We depend on rain and sun-the cycles put in place by our Creator, to actually bring about growth. Hope springs eternal....

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 695 words; end material = 105 words

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