In summer, we speak the language of gardens. Of vegetables and rainstorms. The rabbits are eating the beet greens. There are grubs in the radishes. The raccoons will find the corn no matter what you do. They will plunder it in the precise moment before it is ready. There is too much rain or too little. It is too hot or too cold.
My uncle puts a board over his beets when he plants them. In the spring, this keeps them warm. He lifts it up each day checking for the first sign of the shoots. Those tiny specks of bright purple-red. Then he sets the board upright to shade the seedlings. My father says to soak the beet seeds overnight.
A man at the community garden has planted his watermelon inside concrete blocks. The rest of the dirt is covered in plastic. He says that’s how it’s done down south. Our neighbor in the next plot over mows a path into his vegetables when the weeds get too tall. Some of the plots are pristine–not a weed in sight. Others are covered with a fine carpet of green. The weeds grow as fast as anything you plant.
When I drive anywhere in the summer, I study the gardens. The best are the ones planted closest to the road. How high are their tomatoes? What color is their soil? What, my mother wonders, will they ever do with all that zucchini they planted? I search each yard we pass for a garden. I monitor the ones on familiar routes all summer long. I keep a running tally. I follow their summer written in the rows.
It is competition and communion. We are all in this together. Only a fellow gardener can appreciate the pure pleasure of a bundle of rainbow chard planted months ago and now sitting on your plate. Only they can suffer with you at the first signs of blight. The crushing blow when the squash plants shrivel and die for no perceivable reason. Only they can gaze up with you into the cloudless sky and wonder when it will ever rain again. Only they can understand that there is nothing so fascinating as someone else’s garden. Only they can speak that language.