There were three of us. Our parents looked at us, our needs, our energy, and established the Friendship Gardens. We were each given a set sum of money and the freedom to purchase seeds, seedlings, or full-grown plants. Our sister, always frugal, started seeds in flats early in March. I, improvident at all times, blew the entire sum for seedlings in May. Our brother outdid us by planting an apple tree at the head of his plot. This tree yielded its first apples the year he left for his mission—which we all considered to be a good omen.
From my sister’s garden we learned tenderness. Transplanting the delicate seedlings, spreading the tender roots without damaging them, watering without overwatering, and watering only at sundown or sunup—the feel of gentleness in our hands made us feel gentle in spirit as well.
From my garden, with its second-step beginnings, we learned excitement and experimentation. I tried out Grandma’s suggestions: marigolds will protect string beans from insects. Use nasturtiums as a border; the mosquitos don’t like them! Plant the seeds from a package of miniature gourds as a mulch and ground cover to conserve moisture and keep down the weeds! Well, our ground cover yielded a gold mine of gifts for all occasions. They were round, elliptical, and all shapes; but none were square! The colors and decorations were competition for any pop artist!
But my brother’s garden—that we came to call the “mini-United Nations” because it taught us sharing. From the start, he swapped with gardeners all over the neighborhood. One friend traded delphinium seedlings for tomato slips. The bishop had my brother’s snapdragons at his front gate, and my brother praised the exchange brussels sprouts that flourished in his own little garden.
Each year we learned more and more. We learned to water plants when they needed it, not when we felt like it. We learned the pleasure of contributing to the family. Most important, growing things became “people” with their own unique requirements—requirements that had to be met at the proper time, not when the spirit moved us. We learned that you can’t get mad at someone who gave you your string beans, or feud with someone who was carefully spading the ground around the cauliflower you gave her.
Our family came to call these patches of ground our Friendship Gardens; and as adults we have only added to the dimensions.