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Jane Johnson

© 2004

Jane readingBackyard Battles

“Dang,” I muttered, perusing my newly planted garden. I noticed the beans emerging in neat rows, the tomatoes settling in (still blight free) and the peppers beginning to bud. But the zucchini—good grief, I’d forgotten to plant zucchini seeds!

This tiered garden plot on the north side of the garage had been created when three trees succumbed to Dutch-elm disease and were removed. The resulting space and sun seemed  perfect for a garden, so for the past nine summers I’ve been planting around Memorial Day, harvesting in August, and feeling connected to the earth.

I’d always taken care with this plot.  Rows were straight, soil was loose, and weeds or random shoots?—no way. They were plucked immediately. When I noticed rabbits seemed to be munching my tender seedlings, we erected a fence—which was replaced last month with newly-purchased chicken wire (or “poultry netting,” as my father, the hardware store owner, insists I call it.)  My husband took pains to install this fence straight, taut, and it looked gorgeous.  I took pride in the orderliness of it all.

But the zucchini hill?  Well, I mused as I surveyed the garden, of course it would go over there next to the clump of lavender—not too close to the tomatoes, allowing for growth, and far enough from the beans and peppers to enjoy full sun.  Maybe a second hill over at the other end by the herbs?  Yes…two hills should do it, I thought.  They’d fit in—nice, neat.

As any gardener knows, you can’t harvest unless you plant, so one evening I decided the time had arrived to sow those zucchini seeds.  I’d been outside mowing and trimming.  My face glistened, my skin was sticky from the humidity, and bits of grass stuck in my hair.  I longed for a shower. But why not plant the zucchini seeds now?  I was already a mess, and the garden had dried out a bit so that the glossy mud had turned to damp earth.  The timing seemed perfect.

The evening sky was beginning to show previews of a breathtaking sunset as I emerged from the garage, fully armed for the task.  The water jug was heavy, the trowel and spade shifted a bit in one hand, but somehow I was able to handle them and the gloves and seeds as well.  I marched up a small hill to the garden and my eye targeted the selected spot.  I was ready.

Lifting my left foot and carefully placing it over the fence between pepper plants, I danced a bit, keeping my balance. Taking a deep breath, I zeroed in on the section of garden about to become “zucchini hill extraordinaire,” and as I swung my right leg over… it caught on the fence.  I juggled, I hopped, I hesitated, but I was going down. With my arms fully loaded, I was about to belly flop and crush my young peppers, beans, and tomatoes.

A motherly instinct must’ve kicked in, however, for somehow I missed those plants and fell face down into the dirt. The gloves flew, the seed packet, trowel and spade scattered, and the jug accordioned—water drenching my face and hair.

Unhurt, but startled to find myself beached among my plants, I lay on the damp earth, my knees and elbows sliding and sinking into the warm soil.  Specks of mud splotched my cheek and forehead as I breathed in the earthy mustiness, air again beginning to fill my lungs.  This was not what I’d envisioned.  I was ridiculously sprawled out in my garden among the orderly rows and suddenly…mosquitoes descended.

Still prone, I was desperate to complete the mission.  I rose to my elbows, found the trowel, estimated the location of the spot I’d chosen earlier, and stretched to create a circle in the earth for the seeds.  With my feet and hands swatting critters, I managed to open the seed packet, toss the seeds into the circle, water them with the few drops left in the jug, and cover them with dirt.  Crawling to my feet, I raced to the herb section of the garden and made a second circle in the earth, still sure that my chore (despite this mishap) would bear bountiful fruit from the two hills of zucchini.

But to my amazement, the seed packet was empty. Stricken, I noticed a faint trail of white zucchini seeds zigzagging haphazardly from the first spot to where I now stood.  I was out of ammo.  Miffed, wet, dirty, mosquito bitten, and yes—humbled—I gathered my gardening supplies and fled.

A cool front’s come in, whisking away humidity and mosquitoes—for now.  I open the back door into the sepia of dusk.  “…Goin’ to check on the garden,” I call to my husband as I stroll up the hill to make my rounds.  I step to the fence’s perimeter and peer in. They’re all there—my garden plants—seemingly at parade rest, but I know they’re growing strong.  I notice the zucchini is coming up—three or four plants in the first hill (exactly as planned) but several scattered throughout the tomatoes and beans as well.  Some of that seed trail “took” and sprouted.  I shake my head, smiling at the errant ones, the guys out of formation, out of step.  No way am I going to yank them out.  So what if the rows aren’t straight? These seedlings are warrior plants.