My mother grew up on a potato farm in Aroostook County. They grew vegetables for their own use. They had cows and chickens, so they sold eggs and butter. My father, also from The County, lived in town, but his family grew all kinds of vegetables in their backyard.

“As much as I want to have a bountiful garden, I’m doomed to produce a puny one,” writes Sarah “Sally” Mackenzie of Brunswick. Photos courtesy of Sarah “Sally” Mackenzie

Gardens are in my blood, but it was my father who made gardens so much a part of my childhood. My mother seemed to want to get far away from her farming inheritance, so she cooked vegetables, but didn’t grow them. When I proudly gave her some homemade blueberry jam, she said, “Nature is really overrated. I like store-bought jams.” She certainly preferred store-bought frozen vegetables to freezing or canning any of the vegetables my father so carefully nurtured.

Everywhere we lived, my father had a garden. When we lived in Bangor (having moved from Easton), he had three: one in our tiny backyard, a garden for corn at a friend’s house, and another one on the river in Hampden. I don’t remember what he grew there. What I remember is how much fun it was to go there at dusk one or two evenings a week to roam in the brush and on the rocks near the river.

In Scarborough, he was able to have a good-sized garden. No corn or potatoes. Willey’s farm at the end of our street provided the baker’s dozen ears we could buy every night from mid-August to mid-September; potatoes we got in 50-pound bags from my uncles.

Initially, my father thought it would be a good idea if all of us kids had a job in the garden. I managed to be permanently removed from that duty by weeding the carrots – plants and all. Gardening was for my brothers, not for the girls, although we loved to pick and eat cucumbers in the garden, no vinegar required.

I never lacked for fresh vegetables from my dad or my brothers. I had no incentive to have a garden. My husband has had fruitful gardens over the years, but, like me, he likes planting, not weeding. Plus being on academic schedules meant we had no time to harvest and preserve our hard work. An accident has made gardening difficult for him. He’s been looking around for the highest raised-bed gardens he can find.

With uncles from The County, Mackenzie and her brothers and sisters could always count on plenty of potatoes on the table.

In retirement, I have become obsessed with gardens. I’m just not very good at growing them. I read Tom Atwell every Sunday, jot notes to myself about what he says I should be doing when. Last year I started many seeds inside. Few actual plants survived in the ground. I had to buy seedlings in order to have any fresh lettuce and cherry tomatoes. My garden produced a few cucumbers, but I still had to buy enough to make pickles. My garden didn’t even produce any zucchini! My husband much prefers the beefsteak tomatoes and spicy greens he can buy at the farmers market every Tuesday and Friday, so I am left to consume my garden products, sad though they are.

I fear I have my mother’s anti-nature genes. As much as I want to have a bountiful garden, I’m doomed to produce a puny one. So, this spring, I am going to plant some seedlings. I’m not going to make pickles; I’m going to let other people supply me with spinach, peas, cauliflower, broccoli – all the things I feel that I should be able to grow, but can’t. I’m going to practice humility and accept that as much as I want to be, I’m not a gardener.

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