By now, most of you have undoubtedly heard the story of Julie Bass, the Michigan gardener who has been charged with a misdemeanor for planting a front yard veggie garden. I wrote about it for TreeHugger, and confess to being slightly obsessed with this case. Maybe it’s because it’s happening to a local gardener. Maybe it’s because I know the type of city/city officials that would push this woman so hard on something so benign. Maybe it’s because, at my core, I believe in our right to feed our families the best way we can. More than anything, I believe in gardening.
Food, and So Much More
I write a lot about edible gardening. I teach people how to grow healthy, organic food, and try to help them find ways to make the most of the space they have, even if it’s only a windowsill. Show me a ripe ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ tomato, and I will appreciate it for the work of art and sustenance that it is. An armload of rainbow-colored Swiss chard makes me happy in a way that’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there yourself.
But it’s more. Every bite of food harvested from our garden is the result of a true labor of love. Every raised bed was built by my husband, some with the help of my daughters. My husband unloaded hundreds of pounds of composted manure to fill those beds, many days, after a full day of work. We started the seeds, and the kids delighted in watching them sprout. Every bite is a memory, made twice over in both the planting and the eating.
I do things in my garden that I tell my readers they should never do. I plant tomatoes way too close together, because, in my greed for as many tomatoes as I can get, I start too many plants for our space. I plant carrots in shallow raised beds (though it hardly matters when we harvest them when they’re young and sweet — real baby carrots, as opposed to those lathed, dried out things pretending to be baby carrots at the grocery store.) I plant cukes and peas on the same trellis, because I’ve run out of room but still want to grow them both. They grow, and produce, but they are a mess.
A glorious mess.
What most people would consider a mistake.
They could even be considered ugly and unkempt.
The Right to Make Mistakes
And I think that’s what gets me about this current situation, and last summer’s infamous Ugly Gardens uproar. I’ve seen people say that maybe if she’d designed it better, she wouldn’t have had a problem with her veggie garden. People have criticized the planter beds, the red mulch, the health of the plants. And I wonder how and when everyone got to be so fucking perfect.
Because when I look at the photos of Julie Bass’ garden, and see the first efforts of several other gardeners who’ve shared photos with me, I’m taken back to my first garden; a raised bed that held too many plants and didn’t live up to the dreams I had for it. I see the seeds of a gardening dream that sprout not just an annual fad that will die at the end of the season, but a perennial obsession that will weather a harsh winter and live again, growing stronger as the years go by.
I see love, and pride in what you’re doing, even if you’re technically doing it wrong.
I see mistakes that turn into the knowledge that makes us better gardeners.
And I believe, endlessly, in our right to make mistakes.