Zelna's Garden
Zelna's Garden

Last year, my husband and I decided to turn part of our front lawn into a vegetable garden. Although we have a garden in the backyard, our tall pine trees have made it challenging to grow more than shade-loving perennials.

Last May, we purchased a truckload of Dairy Doo and dug up a section of grass in front of the house, and we tilled and planted and watered and weeded and watched it transform into a productive garden.

To our delight, despite the small size, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, potatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and onions began thriving, where grass used to be. We planted marigolds, nasturtiums, sweet alyssum, and geraniums, in hopes of thwarting off the neighborhood rabbits and deer.

As we worked on the garden throughout the spring, we barely realized that we had an audience. With each passing day, we noticed people stopping along the sidewalk in front of our house. At first, we weren’t sure why, but then we realized that they were simply enjoying the garden.

Whenever we were outside, weeding or watering, people would stop for a while and talk with us. They would ask what we were growing and all kinds of interesting questions.

One man came by regularly, in his wheelchair, along with his Airedale Terrier, and together, they would sit and watch the garden for a little while in the afternoon sun. Another woman would stop by on her walk home from work and smile in delight, gazing at the butterflies and bees on the flowers. Joggers would run by in the early morning and yell, “Looking good!”

One evening, when I was sitting on the front porch, I noticed a young woman helping an elderly woman cross the street. Together, they came right up to the porch and told me they were from the nearby Assisted Living. The woman’s name was Zelna and she had asked her aide to bring her over to meet us. She pointed to her window across the street and told us that she’d been watching us since the early spring. She told us how much she enjoys seeing the colorful vegetables and flowers. I showed her the plants up close and she marveled at the sight of it all.

All through the summer and fall, people stopped to tell us how they enjoyed coming by to see what was growing. They seemed fascinated with the size of our zucchini plant and the abundant fairly tale eggplant and the cute little pie pumpkins peering out beneath the green vines. People especially loved the Annabelle hydrangea at the center of it all.

Suddenly, our neighbor’s enjoyment seemed more important than the food we were growing. We started thinking about what they’d like, as we brought in all sorts of pumpkins and mums in the fall, and we started thinking ahead to spring and what we could plant that Zelna would enjoy.

Our small garden made me truly appreciate how it must feel when your customers come to enjoy your markets and orchards and fields and produce. It must be an amazing feeling and it must be fun to plan ahead each season, to delight your visitors.

Sadly, in January, Zelna passed away. It was such an empty feeling to no longer see her there, watching from her window. Throughout the long winter months, our neighborhood felt so lonely.

In time, as the snow began to melt, I began to realize that we had given Zelna a special gift--something beautiful to enjoy from her window, all throughout the last summer of her life. In return, she blessed us with the revelation that someone, unexpectedly, might be noticing and appreciating the little things that you do, much more than you know.

In May, we dug up a little more of our front lawn and began planting this year’s garden. As my husband worked outside, two elderly women wheeled over from the Assisted Living and asked him, “What are you planting? We just love watching what you’re growing!”

Janice Benson, Executive Director, Michigan Agritourism

Created on Wednesday, August 8, 2018