Perhaps I should have listened to the man in his 80s, a devoted gardener, who had grown up in our house, tilled gardens there for decades, and who had a 1930s degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst.
“Well, you can try,” said Fred, a lean New Englander with a strong handshake. “I never had much luck getting anything to grow there—except gourds. Everyone loved my gourds for their Thanksgiving tables. It’s pretty wet back there and you really can’t plant to August, but give it a try.”
Still in my early 30s, I believed I could get anything to grow anywhere if I tried hard enough, so I forged ahead. Our helpful neighbor plowed and tilled the field with his tractor, my small son seated beside him, watching the dark earth appear in beautiful orderly rows like magic. The garden looked so fertile, as if anything could grow there. We excitedly planted row after row of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
It was a disaster. The corn plants were spindly and collapsed. The tomato plants rotted. I think we had a few puny zucchini, most of which got eaten by a huge healthy woodchuck that lived in the woods behind us. Sick at heart, I faced the fact that Fred was right. The soil in the field was very wet, full of clay, and terrible for growing anything but gourds that only flourished because by August, the soil had dried out enough for germination.
After that, I kind of gave up on vegetable gardening, except for a few planters of patio tomatoes and some pots of basil and parsley. Instead, I tackled the old perennial gardens around our yard, planted with drifts of iris, peonies, wildflowers, and daylilies, which thrived and bloomed happily year after year. But every summer, I longed for the taste of my own fresh vegetables.