by Jeanette Levellie
When I planted my first garden, I was as green as an onion top. The closest I’d come to gardening was when Grandma Viola sent me out to her berry patch behind the garage to pick strawberries. I was all of six then, so a few decades had warped my memory enough to convince me that gardening was simple and sweat less.
When I got my brilliant idea to become a gardener, the Los Angeles suburb we lived in rented spare land from a factory, which in turn rented 10’ x 10’ plots to gardeners. Although the gardens were over two miles from our house, I figured the rewards would outweigh the travel time. My imagination salivated with images of steaming vegetable stew and bright green salads harvested from our own patch of earth. Naiveté at its worst.
While buying onion sets, I wondered why they came in such huge packages. Who needed a hundred onions? They must know what they’re doing, I thought as I drove to the garden, maybe not all of them will come up.
I pulled out the instructions. “Plant 10 inches deep, 2 inches apart.” How will I ever get them that far into the soil? I muttered, wiping sweat from my forehead, eyes, and neck. And I hadn’t even opened the package yet.
I trudged to the car, hunted down a pencil, then stomped back to the garden. All afternoon I punched and jabbed until the final bulb—and I—lay exhausted in the soil. On the way home, a doubt crept in. Had I read the instructions right? At a red light, I grabbed the empty package and saw, “Ten inches apart, two inches deep.” Oh, great. Now what?
Rushing inside the house, I called our neighbors, grand scale gardeners from Kentucky who could make sweet corn grow from a pile of sand and a smile.
“Lucille, what should I do?” I cried. “I planted my onions ten inches deep.”
Did I hear a smile hidden behind her sweet Southern drawl? “My lands, child, they’ll never come up. You’ll have to replant. They’ll just sit in the ground and rot.”
The following day I tromped back to the garden with another hundred onions. Planting the second set over the first ones, I made sure they were only two inches deep. I surprised my family a few weeks later with a plateful of lovely green onions on the supper table. I passed it around, grinning. I hardly noticed that I was the only one who ate any.
“Did you forget we don’t like onions, Mom?” teased my son. “They look pretty, though. How did you make that fun shade of green for the tops?” I wanted to smack him with my holey gloves.
Instead, I swallowed my pride and took a few onions to Lucille, who allowed herself a loud laugh over my crazy planting mistake.
But I had the last laugh when several weeks later the original hundred onions popped up, their whites a full ten inches long. They were the best onions I’d ever killed myself over.