(Photography by Laura Demanski, AM’94)

Tend your garden

On cultivating our garden.

In 30 years of urban apartment and dorm living, you miss out on some of life’s pleasures. Case in point: gardening. When the opportunity arose this spring to lay claim to 10 by 18 feet of my own growing space, I signed up.

In April I was thinking big. Tomatoes were a must-have. I mused on cucumbers, butterfly bushes, arugula, peonies. Visions of raspberry bushes danced in my head. Then, one weekend early in May, I actually visited my plot.


Some lilacs at the back were recognizable—they were already in fragrant bloom—but most of the other plants growing tall and thick in this not-lately-tended garden? They were all green to me. There was a lot of work to do before planting anything—an on-the-ground campaign that I wasn’t sure how to begin.

So I retreated. Until Memorial Day weekend, anyway, when my parents came to town, my dad with his green thumb and gardening tools. The two of us spent Sunday morning clearing about 20 percent of the rectangle, whacking weeds and digging up roots. We installed five young tomato plants and I made actual plans to clean up the rest of the plot over the summer and fall, inch by inch.

When some of the inherited plants began to blossom, my horticultural education began. There was phlox, and lilies, even the wished-for peonies. Every morning has been an adventure: What will burst open today? Plus the chore of clearing has turned out to be, though painstaking, also enveloping. In two ways: The garden is a world in miniature that makes the larger one slip away, and the work of tending it deposits dirt on every square inch of me. On Saturdays and Sundays I can only barely peel myself away.

Last year in Bethesda, Maryland, I met Frederick Foote, AB’80, a retired Navy physician who is helping war-wounded servicemen and women recover through nature and art (see “Safe Harbor”). We took a walk around the site that will soon be his healing garden for veterans, the Green Road. This summer I emailed him about my new occupation, or obsession. “I’m glad you are getting some nature healing,” he wrote back.

Foote is one of many alumni in this issue who are cultivating their gardens in the Voltairean sense: helping the world inch by inch, taking close care of their corners of it. On the ground.