Only In America . . . TM

Copyright © 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.


Spring is creeping up on us once again. Soon it will be time for lovers to walk hand in hand in the park; time for married couples to spend a joyous weekend together cleaning out the junk that has been accumulating in the garage all winter; time for the more venturesome among us to till the soil and plant our annual garden in the back yard.

Just thinking about the garden part used to be enough give me a case of the screaming willies, but not any more. I have learned the secret of the perfect garden.

Do you think you have the worst garden in your neighborhood? In your city? In the entire state? In the whole USA? Well, don't despair. I used to be even worse that that. In fact, I used to be the worst gardener on planet Earth. No matter how hard I tried, nothing would grow in my garden, not even weeds. Each year I would spend approximately two and a half to three million dollars on fertilizers, seeds, soil conditioners, and all the latest garden gimmicks and gadgets (you know the ones I mean: they're always advertised on the late, late show and sold in discount drug stores) and the only thing I ever managed to grow was seed packages and rocks.

Then I learned the secret.

It didn't come to me in a vision. I didn't hear about it on the early morning farm report or read about it in the Sunday supplement of my local newspaper. Nor did I get it in a letter from my mother. I got it from the next door neighbor's six year old kid.

What does a six year old kid know about raising a garden? Plenty! Visit any day school, nursery or kindergarten and look over the plot of ground where they plant their little gardens. Every one is lush as a jungle - in spite of all that a screaming pack of six and seven year olds can do to crush, mangle, stomp, defoliate and generally demolish every single living thing in the place from the instant it is first planted. Anyone who can make a garden grow under those conditions certainly knows more than I do. So I asked the little kid some questions. And I learned that the secret to a successful garden is to plant only three things: gourds, sunflowers and okra.

Gourds are the first thing on our list because they will grow anywhere. They will grow in caliche, in clay, on a fence, up a tree trunk, on a trellis, in the grass - anywhere you want to plant them. In fact, you don't even have to plant them - just throw the seeds out in the yard any old place and they'll grow! And grow! And grow! And GROW! In fact, they will take over your entire yard before you know what happened! Gourds everywhere! Yellow gourds, green gourds, striped gourds, spotted gourds, little gourds, big gourds, BIG gourds, skinny gourds, fat gourds - the variety is endless. No one can goof up a gourd garden.

Sunflowers are the second item for our perfect garden. Remember the kids' gardens we talked about earlier? Ever see one without a few sunflowers in it? Neither have I. Not only are these things so simple to grow that anyone can do it, they grow way up above the fence so that the neighbors can see them and marvel. They also give you a chance to show off your vast agricultural knowledge; you can tell everyone that they are heliotropic, then wait breathlessly for them to ask you what that means. When they do, you smugly explain that it means the flowers follow the sun, facing the east in the morning and the west in the evening, which is why they're called "sunflowers". This display of knowledge is guaranteed to impress anyone except your average six year old, who will simply reply, "Everybody knows that!", and walk away in disgust.

The last item on our list is okra, the "perfect" garden vegetable. Why? Well, it is not only as simple to grow as gourds and sunflowers, it is also edible (in theory, at least). This qualifies it as a genuine garden "crop", which can be harvested and eaten, canned, or given away to your friends and neighbors. However, since nobody actually eats okra, they will never know whether it is good, bad, terrible, or somewhere in between. They will simply throw it secretly away and tell you how delicious it was, forever securing your reputation as a gardener.

One word of caution. If you happen to know people who actually eat okra, I advise you to try planting banana squash or zucchini instead. If they eat that too, try a rock garden.

Copyright © 2002 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.