Life is full of surprises. One of my greatest surprises this year is my beautiful, wild, verdant and accidental garden.
It was built as a comfort gift from my father during my recovery from foot surgery. He brought in railroad ties and positioned them along one side of my garage. Then he filled the area with dirt and manure.
Family, friends, helpful guests and I all randomly tossed in vegetable refuse. I added juice from my juice machine. There were banana peels, apple skins, lettuce, greens, melon rinds, potato skins, beans and onions involved in the process. I might have put whole veggies in, complete with seeds.
I lamented that I was late in planting it. I bought a few seeds from the store, took a few from my parents' stash and tried to plan a date to begin. I kept checking to see if it wasn't already too late to plant.
I didn't want to waste time planting if the summer sun was going to kill the emerging growth anyway. I wondered if I shouldn't just wait till the next year to begin. Then one day, a couple of neighbors walked by and asked me what was growing in my garden.
"Weeds," I responded matter-of-factly. I shook my head sadly. My garden stood lonely and neglected. I should tend it soon, I thought, before it begins to look just like my lawn, a carpet of grass.
I finally determined to get my hands dirty. As I bent to pull out the green invaders, I noticed what did look like small seedlings growing up amid the grass stalks. I left them alone, but I still didn't return to plant.
A week later, there were more seedlings growing. I wondered if someone had planted in my honor, but the random scattering did not appear to have been deliberate.
As the weeks flew by, the plants grew up so thick you could not see the dirt between them, and they vined and snaked wildly, spilling out over the railroad ties. Bright yellow flowers appeared on some of them, and then finally, triumphantly, the fruit of nature's labor.
I identified three types of tomatoes: Roma, Big Boy and grape. I discovered that tomatoes grow just fine trailing along the earth. I saw a small cantaloupe appear, then a striped melon. I was ecstatic. I made a tomato salad, filling it in with fresh oregano leaves, olives and carrots. I topped it off with vinaigrette and delighted in the produce.
I picked another bowl full of tomatoes, then fried a crisp green one that tasted fresh and perfect. I lifted up leaves to search for more surprises under the greenery. I took pictures of it to send to friends around the country. "You won't believe it, but I didn't officially plant any of this," I'd text. Everyone oohed and ahhed.
My parents came to gaze on this accidental gain. Avid gardeners, they told me I had four cantaloupes, a small watermelon and lots and lots of tomatoes. My mother laughed and said, "Your daddy's jealous! He's not going to bother planting anymore. He'll just throw old veggies out like you did."
The truth was, everyone just loved the surprise.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a counselor at CBI Counseling Center and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a local online counseling resource. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.