Of All Things

by Marina Ingrit


The truth is, I don’t really know why I started a website about growing things. I’m sure there were reasons, but I wasn’t entirely conscious of what they were. I have always made things and this was a thing that I wanted to make. I didn’t want to be a writer, except that I also, perhaps not-so-secretly did. I didn’t sit down one day and say to myself, “Okay, here’s the thing: I want to be a writer and even more-so, I want to start all over again and build a career as a garden writer, OF ALL THINGS.”

It didn’t happen that way, which is not how I imagine it happens for a lot of people. Instead, I imagine a frenzy of research, online courses, books for dummies, spreadsheets, and a whole lot of note taking. A degree in horticulture seems to matter, or so I’ve been told at one time or a dozen, when the question of my belonging and value was raised.“Oh, so you’re NOT a Horticulturalist. Because, just so you know, Martha only has Horticulturalists* on the show.” A childhood apprenticeship with a generous and wizened gardening relative is a popular, if not expected route. So is having a yard. One must be of a certain pedigree. A little cash in the bank helps.

For me, there was no intention, and yet, beyond that lack of intention lay every intention. There was no five year plan. I thought I was going to be a graphic designer, and for a time, I was. Before that I planned to be an artist until the reality of art school — who makes it and who doesn’t, which is to say, pretty much nobody — hit me hard in the gut. Going back further I was on track to be a biologist, but my parents didn’t want me to pursue it. I was to be a nodding bobble headed housewife and a baby maker for Christ. As it happens, I didn’t want any of those things, including a bachelors of science.

I didn’t have a “real” garden back then. Do I even have one now? I mean, I don’t own the house or the land it sits on, so in the eyes of many, it simply doesn’t count. What I had was a wild menagerie of pots on a rooftop and a few more inside a small apartment. I had tentatively stuck a shovel into the hardpan earth of a small patch of City land on the side of the building where I lived, which was located on a raucous city corner in a dirty, low income neighbourhood where men drove down from the suburbs to pick up prostitutes, night and day, and people dumped out their shit, quite literally, right on the street. I stuck the shovel in, and over time I did it some more until I unearthed the entire rectangular patch of weeds, broken car parts, and used needles that was bordered by the wall and the sidewalk. I worried every time I went out there that I’d be caught and arrested, but the cops didn’t care about an illicit garden or its gardener.

Before this place where I stopped stopping, there was a series of inexplicable, attempted starts and unsurprising stops. There was a small vegetable patch, dug, planted and tended in the back of an over-crowded student house. Everything grown there, including the soil, was donated by a friend’s dad. That garden was a lifesaver because eventually the food that came out of it was almost all I had to eat. This was preceded by an African violet on a sunny ledge in a shared, but lonely dorm room; an old apartment populated by a handful of plants grown from grocery store seeds and cuttings from an understanding high school biology teacher; and a failed attempt at raspberries and onion sets in the practically sunless, rocky yard behind it. Going back further still, to life before, with parents, I remember a shovel and a patch of scraggly lawn hidden behind the shed. There were no seeds to plant, just the need to make a garden and nothing to put in it. And reaching back further still, to five and ten year-old me are the tiny weed seeds I planted with fumbling, child fingers for pocket change and a magical parsley seedling in a styrofoam cup that sat on a ledge, in a small bedroom, inside a house that held secrets.

What I had, more than anything, was an inexplicable drive to have plants in my life and a need to find meaning in it.

I didn’t say to myself, “I will now build a blog and become modestly Internet famous,” because there were no blogs then and Internet famous wasn’t a thing to be. There was never the thought about the long term, or financial gain, or making it big. I came from out of a 90s youth culture that was about making things for the sake of it. For being creative and using what you have. I was a degenerate former art student trying to make an adult living post university and big debt. I had a negative bank account and no fallback plan… or anything to fall back onto period. I left home at 17 and by then I’d already long overstayed my welcome. I stayed for as long as I could because I wanted an education and I knew that couldn’t happen if I ended up on the street. I stayed until the moment arrived when I knew I couldn’t stay a second longer. He’d kill me; it was just a matter of when. I stayed for as long as I did because I knew that living on the street could kill me too.

I wanted to live.

So I left my childhood home, and what I took with me were some coping skills and a backlog of trauma, pain, and loss. Years later, when I stopped stopping and started gardening for good and then, god forbid, beyond all logic and reason, started writing about it, all of who I was seemed so very wrong for a garden writer. It was too much darkness for someone who tells stories about these remarkable green beings that live in the sun. I was an unremarkable human being raised in the shadows. What right did I have to speak of things so outside of my world?
What I didn’t know then is that gardening is more than sunshine and the pursuit of a flawless, unattainable flower. The garden is nature filtered through the lens of human culture. We bring our flawed and messy selves into these little Edens that we create, ironically enough, as an escape from that original flawed and messy world. So when we make a garden, for better and for worse, and very often despite ourselves, we bring all of our shit along, too. We can’t help it. What this means is that the garden is everything we want and everything we don’t. It is the personal and the political. It holds our hopes and our sorrows. It reveals our ugly, greedy, most malignant selves as well as our tender, highest potential.

I didn’t think I fit in with the world of the garden. I sometimes still don’t. But I pressed on anyway and I continue to press on still, because no matter what sort of world people try to construct around the idea of a garden, the everyday experience of living alongside plants reveals over and over exactly where it is that I belong and that is to the garden, not the other way around.

* The show producer said, Horticulturalist, but the correct term is Horticulturist. The irony in this error was not lost on me.

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