Chapter 16
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Gardening for Fun and … Profit?

How taming a too-steep-to-mow hillside became a new hobby

I’d never been an outdoors kind of gal. I mowed the yard once — over 20 years ago. After stumbling in a hole and wrenching my sciatic nerve, I gave the chore back to my husband, Rich.

Photo: Photomix Company / Pexels

When Rich and I achieved senior citizen status, we hired a man to mow our relatively flat (by Chattanooga standards) front yard. But Hank said the back hillside was too steep. “I’m almost 50, too old for that job.” So every autumn we were obliged to pay someone else an exorbitant amount of money to cut down the forest that had grown up over the summer.

As my 74th birthday approached, I decided to tame that unruly back acre. I’d save the $200 we usually spent at the end of summer, and I would become physically fit in the process. It was a win-win proposition.

We didn’t own a working lawnmower, and it would be difficult to propel one up the hill, so I purchased a battery-powered weed eater. When I brought it home, Rich said, “You should have gotten protective goggles.” I went back to the store to buy goggles and new work gloves, and figured as long as I was there, I might as well buy a sun visor.

When I made the initial attack on the jungle, I found my feet sliding down the incline. I returned to the store to buy golf shoes.

I trudged up and down the hill with my weed eater, using the sweeping motion Rich suggested. I sang “I am strong, I am invincible” like Helen Reddy in the ‘70s. I congratulated myself on being a woman with the physical prowess of a 50-year-old instead of a septuagenarian.

After two hours’ labor, however, I felt more like a centenarian. I showered, collapsed on my bed, and didn’t rise again until supper. Did my husband really expect me to prepare a meal after my hard work? Apparently.

The next day I dragged my aching body out of bed, reminding myself that perseverance would pay off. Each morning I tackled another portion of our backyard wilderness. Until the fifth day. That’s when I began to itch, and a rash soon covered my arms and legs. I applied a variety of home remedies and over-the-counter treatments before seeing a doctor.

The M.D. confirmed what I already suspected: It was poison ivy. He wrote a prescription. When that didn’t help, we tried a different medication, then another. Before long, my medicine cabinet contained enough creams and potions to treat the plague. I scratched and bubbled for weeks before recovering sufficiently to return to my yardwork, now dressed in a long-sleeved shirt with pants tucked into long socks

As I hacked the jungle into submission, I began visualizing a hillside covered with wildflowers instead of weeds, wildflowers that would grow — well, wild. They wouldn’t have to be mowed and could propagate to their hearts’ content.

First, though, I needed to break up the Tennessee clay and add fertilizer. When Rich asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said, “A pickax.” He shook his head as if he thought I’d lost my mind but bought me a pickax.

The new implement didn’t feel very heavy — until I’d swung it for 20 minutes. When my flabby little arms began throbbing, I quit for the day. But I chopped a bit each morning until I’d cleared a 6 x 10-foot area at the top of the hill. I added organic material and sowed wildflower seeds.

After that, I thought, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll plant some vegetables too.” I hadn’t worked a garden since my youth, back when my siblings and I were forced laborers on the family farm in Michigan. We’d harvested corn and green beans, radishes, peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I hated gardening then, but now I envisioned my own bountiful crop — maybe I’d have enough to put up for winter like my mother did. I imagined eating delicious, healthy, homegrown vegetables. And I’d save a bundle of money too.

Between bouts of pickaxing and weed eating, I planted two bean plants, some lettuce, and peppers. I watered my little garden daily, and it soon began to sprout. I particularly looked forward to eating those fresh green beans.

I’m not sure what went wrong, but I harvested only enough lettuce for one salad and picked two green peppers; the others turned black. And our green beans? Delicious. Rich and I shared the entire crop one evening for supper — we consumed four beans each.

The yield from my mini-garden was disappointing and sure didn’t save us money. In fact, between the cost of the weed eater, goggles, gloves, golf shoes, plants, manure, medicine, and a trip to the doctor, we spent well over $200.

But I gained experience. And by the end of summer I was physically stronger than I’d been in years.

I’m now approaching my 75th birthday. Winter is over, and I’m back on the hillside weed eating and considering what to plant. I think I’ll purchase a rototiller — just a small one for my small plot. This time I’ll grow beans, lettuce, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and blueberries. I bought a gardening book to guide me. Maybe this year my homegrown veggies will save us money. Or maybe not. But I’m enjoying a new hobby, I’m exercising, and you might even say I’m becoming an outdoors kind of gal.

Gardening for Fun and … Profit?

Copyright © 2023 by Diana L. Walters. All rights reserved. At age 75, Diana continues to work part-time at a retirement community enriching the lives of seniors. In her spare time, she gardens and writes. She’s been published in several devotional magazines, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Sasee, and other publications. She lives in Chattanooga.