Tending My Garden

Posted on July 23, 2016


I thought I’d rise to the level of Thomas Jefferson for a short while this morning. He was a gentleman farmer among the many hats he wore—composer of the Declaration of Independence among the better known bullets of his resume—and he spent a lot of time at his home of Monticello in Virginia tinkering with his farm, inventing things, improving his crops, and writing.

So, I thought, I do the same. I am a one-man lawn service for my home and grow vegetables pretty much year round in two little plots that I have hidden away from some of my nosy neighbors who probably don’t think a vegetable garden suits the genteel character of our neighborhood. I suspect most of them, however, would approve since most are not very snotty about their circumstances. T.J. would approve.

Jefferson’s ideal was a nation of yeoman farmers, all plowing away in liberty and sharing the bonds of independence and the virtues of hard toil. Most of my neighbors—doctors, lawyers, educators, professors, business people–don’t live on farms, although one or two may have “some land” squirreled away from family inheritances and the like in the Black Belt counties to the south of us.

While gardening in a couple of little plots in an urban environment in the 21st century is not the same as farming during the age of Revolution in Virginia, there are similarities. I think we can all learn a bit from a vegetable garden, or any endeavor tied to working the land. A vineyard for example for you wine lovers.

For one, both Jefferson and I have to exercise patience. Patience is a Scriptural virtue by the way. Plants, bushes, vineyards, and trees don’t grow overnight. You can’t Tweet a tomato plant into existence. There is a principle called “delayed gratification” which has to be practiced. You can’t have what you want instantly.

Furthermore, gardeners have to plan ahead and take into account their circumstances. French wine growers discovered that Demopolis wasn’t very good wine country in the early 1800s when they left France in self-imposed exile after Napoleon Bonaparte’s Waterloo.

Jefferson by the way also wanted to grow grapes and enjoy the fruit of his labors, but discovered Virginia wasn’t much better for grapes than Alabama. Tobacco and cotton proved a lot more profitable. King Cotton in the early nineteenth century governed the economy, and it was based on African slave labor. Jefferson had mixed feelings about slavery, but I don’t have to worry about that problem in my neighborhood garden.

I did have a Guatemalan come work for me occasionally on weekends. Domingo, my principal contact with illegals lately, likes to work and my yard looked excellent. Then his second son arrived in the states and Domingo was distracted by being a good dad, and his regular job got busy, and so we only talk occasionally. I don’t know if Jefferson had any illegals; probably not. Most of his labor was slave labor. He had about 130 on his plantation. Sigh. There are always problems with getting and keeping good labor.

Which, of course, makes my one-man operation free of labor worries, although my wife noted that there are a lot of weeds in the rose gardens. She noticed this one evening just after I had mowed the lawn and blown the leaves, thinking, “wow, everything looking nice!”

“We need to get those weeds,” she said, which I took to mean “you need to get those weeds.”

Occasionally she gets a strong fit of energy and interest and we spend a bundle at Home Depot on new plants, mulch, dirt, the good stuff all us gardeners like to work with. She plants, waters, mulches and hustles around and then leaves, like Jefferson I’m guessing, not to return for days, maybe weeks, just to oversee the worker occasionally. Like Jefferson, attending to affairs of state calling him away from Monticello, my wife returns to her calling of preaching on Monday nights to her “girls” at the County Jail, or heading out to Westminster Barn to ride and tend to her horses. Jefferson liked to ride also.

Come to think of it, she sounds more like Jefferson than me. I pulled weeds one morning at dawn before picking up the newspaper. We had a thunderstorm, lots of rain, that night and the weeds are easy to pull out. I bet Jefferson’s slaves assigned to weed pulling knew that. I wonder if the President ever pulled a weed or two?

Published Sunday July 3, 2016 as We Can All Learn from Gardening in The Tuscaloossa News.