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Home is Where the Garden Is

by Jayne Hitchcock

'Living in the Afternoon', by Elizabeth Lyle
"Living in the afternoon"
by: Elizabeth Lyle

Having lived in many places over the years, and outside the United States, I’ve always had a garden. It’s been interesting to see how different each garden had to be, due to soil, weather and whatnot.

I was born in Maine, yards from the ocean. My father had (and still has) a large garden in the back. I would watch him as he laboriously sowed the seeds, weeded as the seeds sprouted, watered when they were thirsty, trimmed them as needed, then finally picked them. We still delight in the variety he grows - lettuce, squash, corn, beets, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, tomatoes and whatever he feels like growing that year. I would sometimes help, digging my tiny fingers in the soil. That’s when the soil and I became one. Literally.

I became so obsessed with soil and dirt that when I made mud pies, I ate them. My mother was not amused. My father was. When I was seven, my parents split up and my mother took my sister and I to California.

While growing up in Oxnard (about an hour north of Los Angeles), we again lived yards from the ocean. Our garden consisted mainly of hardy palms in the front yard, flowering shrubs in the back, what grass that would grow (mostly weeds and crabgrass) and iceplant. For those who do not know, iceplant is a ground-covering plant. It creeps along as it grows; its green frost-colored fingers thirstily seeking room for its roots in the soil. Lavender, orange and pink blossoms would open during the day, then shut tight for the night. If you picked off one of the fingers, a clear liquid- like water would seep out. I was forever fascinated by this.

After high school, I moved back to New England, switching between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I was too busy working, meeting people, and having fun to even think of a garden - until I met my husband, Chris. We moved to a duplex in New Hampshire, and I began growing small herb plants in a window garden that sat on the kitchen windowsill. Basil, rosemary, mint and parsley. Tiny pots, not much work, but it was a garden. I still love the way fresh herbs feel, smell and taste.

We were off to California not long after - the Marines stationed Chris in El Toro (near Los Angeles). Back to my roots - no pun intended. We lived in an apartment, about a half hour from the ocean, and I kept my windowsill garden, just to give me some soil to work my fingers through. I always seemed to find peace and less stress as I trimmed leaves, spread out roots or plucked the herbs for our dinner.

Two years later, Okinawa, Japan gave me the chance to have my first full-fledged garden. The tropical atmosphere, with humidity, ocean air all around, good, red soil that seemed to grow anything, made my garden a joy. I soon found myself with far too many green bell peppers, hot chili peppers, cherry tomatoes and flowers galore - snapdragons, daisies, poppies, orchids and sweet pea. I would spend hours in the backyard, weeding, planting, picking, trimming. My dogs would help me weed or sit and watch me. I’m sure they never understood what in the world I was doing. I certainly wasn’t burying bones. I’ll always remember Okinawa as one of the happiest times of my life.

The move back to the states three years later was culture shock enough, but when we moved to Maryland, I was dismayed at the soil and weather. The soil was very different from Okinawa - dark brown, resistant to growing certain things (I soon found out), and the cold winters made me keep my garden at a minimum. The first year was good - plenty of green bell peppers and small chili peppers. Irises bloomed in the spring, but my pansies and chrysanthemums did not. The second year, nothing grew - the spring and summer were especially dry. But I still spent my time outside, thinking and humming as I worked the soil with my hands (no gloves for this gal), my bare feet on the grass, my soul at peace. If I was under any stress and my husband couldn’t find me inside, he knew he’d find me in the back yard, my hands in the dirt (as he says).

Another three years passed and Chris is out of the Marines. We’ve moved to New England, my real roots - my born roots. We’re close to the ocean again, just like my childhood and Okinawa. I can’t live without the ocean. . .or my garden. Yes, the winters are hard and cold, but I know the spring and summer will be bountiful - the previous residents had a garden in the backyard with cherry tomatoes, peppers and more. I can’t wait for the spring thaw to come. I’m eager to put my hands in this new soil, to plant the seeds and watch them grow, smell the salt air as I tend, and let my imagination run free. I’m finally home.


J.A. Hitchcock is the author of six books and freelances for print and online publications including ATHENA Reviews, Computer Gaming World, Link-UP, Kidnaround and NH Editions. Hitchcock resides in New England and is currently working on a book about privacy and protection in cyberspace. You can reach her at with comments.

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