Gardens and gardening are as much a part of summer as the obligatory ceremonies and images of the season: Evening barbecues, pool parties, baseball games, fireworks, fireflies and afternoon getaways to amusement parks and days of youthful innocence; the iconic "Fresh Lemonade" stand, with its makeshift sign, paper cups, cash box and pitcher of iced refreshment.
Gardening is also therapeutic. It demands concentration of an artistic sort; it is a tactile exercise in pruning, raking, digging and shaping plantings against substantial odds, an almost Sisyphean task given the forces arrayed against the seedlings struggling to emerge from the topsoil; worms, moths, mosquitoes, weeks of drought and hours of monsoon-like downpours – the collective representatives of Mother Nature wage war against you and your garden.
And yet, there we gather – at festivals, picnic tables and block parties – boasting about our green thumbs, as we hold aloft oversized beefsteak tomatoes and sparkling stalks of corn, and cucumbers, peppers, potatoes and assorted berries; the fruits of our labor, indeed!
We should take pride in our efforts because these foods are wholesome and nutritious, free of the chemicals and sprays that make factory farming look like an affront to a bountiful harvest and healthy living.
At the same time, we should be aware of our surroundings. Meaning: we should not forget that the summer heat and humidity can leave us vulnerable to sun stroke, dehydration and attacks from a sundry squadron of bees, wasps, ants and those loathsome mosquitoes.
Put another way, we may garden for our own peace of mind and passion for food; but we are food to the buzzing swarms of uninvited guests that inaugurate the arrival of summer with their wings aflutter, their stingers unsheathed and their group instincts awakened by the June solstice.
As a gardener of modest ambitions, and as the founder of Kiss My Itch Goodbye®, which is an organic means of alleviating the symptoms of chronic itch and irritated skin, I issue the above warning with something more persuasive than words: The reddened arms and inflamed shoulders, the crimson-colored marks of so many scratches and scrapes caused by chronic itch, and worsened by seasonal changes and unwelcome pests.
I also offer this public service announcement because preparation is, in the words of a retired general, the result of hard work and learning from failure. About the latter I have stories aplenty, from enduring the summer weather of Washington, DC, to suffering the indignities of this city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency.
Concerning the former, I know of no great success that is not the product of hard work.
Gardening, for example, is hard work – it is rewarding work, too, as it can enrich our lives and diets – but it requires resolution. It requires an investment in time, and a degree of patience that is a cross between stoicism and mysticism; it can be a transcendent experience.
Do not, therefore, give up because your first “crop” is a bust, or your initial yield of blueberries and cherry tomatoes is tantamount to a handful of pebbles. The work will free your mind, and nourish your soul.
We should rejoice in this opportunity – I know I will – because we can also revel in the pleasures of gardening without succumbing to the ravages of the outdoors.
With safety as our guide, and wellness as our goal, summer can be all the more memorable and fun. It can be a season of learning and doing, of planting and harvesting.
It can be the season it should be because we can make it the season it must be.
We must always be mindful of the benefits – and avoidable dangers – of the outdoors.
Make it a summer worth remembering, not a trio of months you wish to forget.
Posted on WholeFoodsMagazine.com 6/5/2015