The vegetable garden represents a small effort on the part of the gardener to be a producer and not just a consumer, to give and not take, to create something beautiful and useful where nothing existed before. The well-planned and carefully tended vegetable garden can turn a barren field into a colorful landscape, a hot tenement roof into an elevated green space, or a small balcony into a thriving ecosystem.
In literature, the garden symbolizes innocence, fertility, potential, and growth. And so, it is with great expectation that we prep the soil, sow the seeds, and await the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. The new gardener will soon find that patience and stoicism are required. We are forced to move at the pace of the seasons and hope for favorable weather.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted..." -- Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Planting flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, and grasses is a perpetual gift; one that will keep on giving long after we're gone. When we plant, we leave the world just a bit better than the way we found it. For those of us that struggle to find meaning in the jobs we have, planting a garden gives us gratifying and tangible evidence of our labors.
"The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching... The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." -- Ray Bradbury
The gardener appreciates the symbiosis of the natural world. The bees and insects that so many people seek to destroy with sprays and traps are the lifeblood of the vegetable garden. The decline of the honeybee population in our country should be on everyone's radar.
My two children (ages 10 and 12) help plant, weed, and harvest the vegetables and flowers in our garden. They understand how to prepare the soil, how to design a garden based on plant size and shape, and when to plant snap peas versus tomatoes. They know (and appreciate) what they're eating, and they can identify vegetables that perplex most grocery store cashiers.
The satisfaction of walking through a beautiful garden can't be overstated. When I visit my parents' home, it's the first place we go. When guests come to our house, we always end up in the garden. The temptation of picking fresh cherry tomatoes in August, or sampling peas in July is too much to resist.
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." -- Marcus Tullius Cicero