This is a reprint of a column I wrote for the Timpanogos Times, my local newspaper here in Pleasant Grove, UT. It’s a bit of a departure from my normal topics of business, leadership and personal development, but I thought you might enjoy it. I’ll return to more exciting topics of money and business tomorrow.
This appeared in the Wednesday September 11, 2013 edition. There is no online version. It’s very old school, in that respect.
Bliss Bits: Raising Gardens And Families
By Rodney M. Bliss
I noticed your garden is coming in well.
You live in the house with the big garden on the side, right? The one with the “A Frames” holding up the beans?
This might not seem like a strange comment if it was coming from one of my neighbors, but this was a conversation with one of the business owners in Pleasant Grove. Although we’ve been friends for years, I had no idea he even knew where I lived.
Apparently our garden had become a bit of a community conversation piece. It’s fairly easy to spot. If you are driving on the East side of town between the Battle Creek and Grove Creek canyons, it’s hard to miss. In fact, it’s come up on multiple occasions with multiple people, almost always in a positive way. Which is ironic for two reasons.
First, we never set out to make it an example, and second, it almost didn’t happen.
Both my wife and I were raised in families that had big gardens. I remember being about 14 when my parents decided they were going to have a garden. We rototilled 1700 square feet. For some families that’s a small garden. For our family of three kids it was huge. My dad ordered several yards of top soil and it was my job to spread it around.
I then got to oversee the layout of the garden and the planting. We put in the usual vegetables; rows of broccoli and cauliflower starts, lettuce, carrots, radishes, 10 tomato plants and too many zucchini plants.
A beginning gardner plants two zucchini plants, because he thinks one might die.
An experienced gardner plants one zucchini plant, because he knows it’s plenty.
A master gardner doesn’t plant any zucchini plants, because he knows he can get all the zucchini he wants from the beginners and the experienced gardeners.
We watered our garden throughout the summer and I remember the pride that I had when we used my produce at the dinner table. Of course, I also remember my dad correcting me when the carrots came up and the rows zig-zagged all over and were at times about 2 inches apart. But that was the point of learning.
My wife’s family also had big gardens growing up. They were more experienced than we were so their harvest was a lot more consistent. Being the thirteenth of fifteen children, her family was also a lot bigger than mine. Her memories are of hoeing bean rows; knowing that you couldn’t go swimming until the beans were done.
So, when we recently moved into the house that we live in, we knew that at one point we wanted a garden. This year wasn’t going to be the year. Finances were tight and we didn’t know if we could afford a garden this year. It’s my experience that the first few years you pay the garden. It’s only after that when the garden starts to pay you.
It was June when we finally decided one day that we would simply do the best we could. We had the land. The garden would get hit by the lawn sprinklers anyway. And we had seed left over from previous years.
So, we got the kids out with shovels and hoes and we cut the sod off our garden spot and used it to make a wall around the garden. We turned over the dirt with shovels. I built some A-frames to sting wire on for pole beans, we planted beans, peas, lettuce, carrots, watermelon, corn, a few tomato plants, and one zucchini plant. (Okay, we actually planted two, but with 8 kids at home we knew we’d eat that much.) And then we prayed over our little garden and waited to see what our efforts would yield.
We were pleasantly surprised when despite not roto-tilling, and no fertilizer, and just some regular watering, the plants started to grow. Because of our late start we’re not sure we’ll get any of the watermelon, but the bean are ready, we’ve eaten peas, and squash from our garden.
But, we’ve been surprised at the reaction of the neighbors. We live in a great neighborhood and we get along with everyone, but the garden became a bit of a landmark. Neighbors commented that “You Bliss’s seem to be able to grow anything.” As I mentioned, people in the community would bring it up, “I noticed your beans are starting to grow.” And one other thing happened, our kids got a reputation.
Because the garden is in such a prominent spot, when we were out cutting the sod, or planting, or weeding, people driving by would notice not only the garden, but our kids out there working. Since my wife and I both grew up taking care of gardens, we didn’t think anything of having our kids out working in the garden on a Saturday. But, some of our neighbors were impressed that the kids were out there. It led to several summer jobs as people invited my teenagers over to their houses to do yard work, or cleaning or occasionally gardening.
Just as our garden was an accidental example to people around us, our family has been the same way. We have thirteen children. While that’s a big family even by Utah standards, what makes us stand out is the fact that ten of our children are adopted. We’ve adopted from all over the world, so we have white kids, Black kids and Asian kids.
And like the garden, we never set out to be an example and our family almost didn’t happen this way. Twenty-five years ago when we got married, we certainly didn’t plan on having this family.
Like all young couples considering marriage, we talked about kids. Coming from a big family, my wife thought she would want 4-5 kids. I was thinking more in the 2-3 range. Apparently we multiplied my 3 with her 4 and added an extra for good measure.
As we were considering the birth of our third child, we first made the decision to adopt. Our first adoption was domestic and he was three days old when he was placed with us. Over the next 10 years, we found ourselves drawn to India and China, Haiti and Colombia. We adopted infants, and toddlers, and older kids that were school age.
We put a lot more thought into adoption than we did into planting a garden, of course. And now that our oldest daughter is expecting our first grandchild, we are excited to move on to “grand”parenting. But, I’ve often thought about the similarities between our garden and our kids.
Having a multi-ethnic family in Utah is not unique, but it’s still unusual. I am, at times reminded of the fact that my kids look different than I do. Almost always it’s done in a positive way. It’s the questioning look on a clerk’s face, “Is this your son?” Yes. Yes, this is my son, my daughter and my family.
We all have times in our lives when we make decisions for us and our families but those decisions are visible to those around us. We never really know when those decisions and choices will become an example to our friends and neighbors just like my garden and my children.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.
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