When I visited my parents over Christmas, they gave me a few cloves of garlic from a bulb that had sprouted. (No, the sprouting garlic was not their Christmas present to me. They're not that mean.) I like to cook with fresh garlic, and it was already determined to grow where it was on the kitchen counter, so it seemed to me that only good things would come if I simply plopped the cloves in some dirt.
I drove home with five cloves of garlic sealed in a Ziploc bag in my trunk. I unloaded my back pack and box of Christmas treasures and left the garlic where it was, intending to plant it in a day or two.
And suddenly it was February.
After a weekend trip to Montana, I noticed that my car smelled strongly of garlic. I don't know if it was the sub-zero temperatures of the mountains followed by the warm spell that Spokane was experiencing that made the five forgotten cloves wake up and recall their true purpose as vampire repellent, but for whatever reason, I hadn't noticed the smell until then. My only passengers, my boyfriend and a hitchhiker, hadn't said anything. The odor took me completely by surprise.
The garlic had thrived in its dark, airless, plastic prison. The shoots were longer and a healthy green color. I resolved to plant them after work the very next day. Still, a week passed and the bag of garlic remained in my trunk. On Valentine's day I suggested to Dominic that we take his car to the movies. I drove with my windows down for a few days. Finally, I removed the grocery bag with the lively garlic and the plastic pots my parents gave me, and left it on the porch.
Finally again, I planted them indoors.
The cloves were not happy in their new home. In return for lovingly tucking them under a blanket of fluffy potting soil and giving them a sunny window, their pretty green stems turned yellow and they stank up the living room. Thinking it was the warmer temperature that caused this downturn in their health, I banished them to the front yard.
I can see them from here, looking down from the living room window. Wilted and colored like a bruised apple, it is obvious that they have lost the will to live.
The garlic incident is not unique in my history of gardening attempts. Last summer I started some herbs from seeds in a couple of trays outside. I forgot to water them and they dried out completely, then, a rain storm washed away half the dirt. The lemon balm pulled through, but I was demoralized by the limp strawberries and crusty marigolds, the ants and the sandy soil around my house. In the fall, the Christmas cactus I inherited at work quickly went from bad to worse under my care.
The apple tree I planted six years ago is doing fine, but I suspect that's only because I moved to the other side of the state. The tulips I planted are poking out of the ground just in time for spring, but again I can't give myself much credit because I buried at least two hundred of the things, practically guaranteeing that some of them would grow.
My parents gave me a little herb-growing kit for Christmas. I read the instruction booklet studiously and set a reminder on my phone to sow the seeds on March 20, about six weeks before the last frost. Predictably, I didn't get around to it until last night. This was supposed to be the easiest thing in the world. Four seed packets, four cardboard pots, four pellets of dirt. The dirt pellets had to be soaked in warm water for ten minutes to expand, then that same water I just added had to be squeezed out until the soil was moist but not likely to make the seeds mold. So there I was at ten o'clock at night, standing over the kitchen sink squeezing fist-fulls of soggy dirt, generally making a muddy mess of things, when there was a perfectly good bag of ready-to-use potting soil in the garage.
And now, I have little pots that promise basil, cilantro, parsley, and chives, sitting in front of the living room window. Behind them, through the glass, the yellow garlic stems can be seen, a mocking reminder of my most recent failure.
It's also Easter, and although the preacher didn't talk about plants or springtime this morning, my brain is making connections to the theme of resurrection and new life. I suck at gardening. If any plant in my care grows, it is despite my attentions, not because of them. So in 14 to 21 days, when little green faces are supposed to poke out of the re-hydrated, moist but not too-moist soil, I'll know it's a small Easter miracle.