This is my second summer of unrequited gardening. I never considered myself a gardner–I can’t seem to keep house plants alive, but the Santa Monica sun smiled on my garden this past Spring, yielding an abundance of gorgeous lemons, mixed greens and strawberries.
It seemed that along with my plants, I had grown myself a green thumb. I got cocky and had big plans for my new backyard, which was twice the size as the one I just moved from. My bubble was burst as it seemed that moving one town away from Santa Monica as I did in May, was like saying goodbye to perfect sun and soil conditions. The owner of the house I moved to told me that the rail ties in the garden area leaked oil into the dirt, which likely would contaminate any edible plants that might be grown. It took me a few days to get over that bit of news, and I turned to the always helpful Mike at the Marina Garden Center, who suggested growing in planters, rather than directly in the ground. Easy enough.
Last year, I planted three starter tomato plants right before leaving for a six week gig in Georgia. I came home to a forest of 6 foot high tomato plants with shriveled tomatoes and a jungle of vines. My very first experience with tomatoes was the summer before. I pruned and I added organic compost. I kept it watered and checked on them every couple days. And I was rewarded with a bountiful harvest until one day a caterpillar showed up on a leaf and each day got progressively fatter and fatter. I hope the tomatoes the caterpillar ate helped it become the most beautiful butterfly ever. This year I had a late start on the tomato plants, planting the seedlings one early morning before work. I haven’t seen them in four weeks. But now I am wrapped on my project and actually have a chance to see the light of day.
I’m not sure why I missed my plants so much. I only plant edibles and I think that there is some satisfaction in the simple purity of placing a seed in a planter, using the compost from your food scraps and then harvesting your own meal. If I relied on only what I grew, I’d likely starve (or lose that ‘last 10′) but knowing that at least one amazing salad was grown by my own hand is like a touchstone for me. Living in a city where anything you can dream of or desire is a credit card swipe away and working in the entertainment business can remove you from the appreciation of simple basic pleasures. Because my business is creating a hyped up fantasy of reality, the patience and anticipation of seeing that bud become something recognizable (and edible) is grounding and on a philosophical level, a reminder that there is something so much bigger than that sound bite that takes days to craft in a dark edit room.
I consider myself a ‘creative’–I like to produce, write, be in the epicenter of pop culture. I take a seedling of an idea, let it germinate, nurture it and with a lot of Hollywood fertilizer, it appears in your home, as processed entertainment. Whether is television or conjuring up a delicious meal out of items that show up in the garden; both are equally satisfying to me–it’s the difference between a documentary and reality TV. One leaves you with food for thought; that there is something bigger that you should be doing, thinking about and taking action upon, while the other is a good old bag of Cheetos–a guilty pleasure you’ve been craving that is instant gratification, providing an escape from mundane issues.
Luckily for me and my son, we don’t rely on my agricultural skills. But knowing that Ethan understands that the food chain doesn’t begin at the grocery store and end at a fast food drive thru is light years ahead of my eco awareness at his age.
But I couldn’t stop at the life lessons learned from the vegetable garden. For the past few years, through the tireless enthusiasm of my friend, Alison, I’ve been involved in building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Having physically built a roof, and seeing it over a family’s head, I feel an organic connectedness to the earth and to my neighbors. As with plants, the power of seeing life and sustenance grow out of a dirt field, yields more satisfaction than any entertainment accolades (disclaimer: I haven’t won any Emmy awards, so I can’t really state this as a fact, but I think my award winning friends might agree).
While my garden is a solo effort, the Habitat builds are a unification of many people from varying walks of life. From A-list movie stars to church groups and the families, who will eventually live in the house with the crooked siding I hung with all good intentions, makes me realize that there is a safety net in life. Here we were–strangers helping strangers. I’m sure everyone has their own personal reasons for why they were there, but I suspect many, as I did, come out of the experience with a new found sense of security. That we are part of a community–one that we contribute to and one that gives back to us.
The collective buzzing of saws, pounding of hammers, combined with the sweat, tears and laughter made for the very best and most creative of reality programming. One Habitat homeowner, who was volunteering her time to build a home for another family said, ‘Volunteering is the rent you pay for being on this Earth’. I couldn’t agree more.
And the added bonus for me is that the homes we built are LEED-certified, which makes them sustainable AND Ethan and the other Habitat volunteers’ kids were able to be part of the build at a Kid’s Tent set up on site. I like that Ethan can see that the basic necessities of life are not to be taken for granted. He can see the various stages and the work that goes into the food we eat, and the home we live in.
It’s been a great year for growth–maybe not so much in the garden, but definitely in spirit.