Spadecaller's Garden

Ruby throated hummingbird hovering over a cantaloupe vine with blossoms.

First Garden


"Matty, you can have your own garden, but make sure you limit it to the area I showed you. And, no more!" With a stern voice, my father gave his permission. In New York, the ground was still thawing in March and I had ample time to prepare the soil. I had turned nine in November and this was my first garden to do with what I wanted.

I liked planting and cultivating, but especially loved the idea of designing my own garden. I had a distinct vision of what it would be. On that cold morning in early spring, I added some peat, smashed the crusted clumps, and cultivated the soil. However, my moment of satisfaction flitted away into the cool air, when I realized the garden was too small to accommodate the vegetables and flowers that I had envisioned.

"I just need a few more square yards." I muttered aloud. I had selected some insect-repelling plants and flowers to surround the vegetables and without that extra space, I could not use them.


"I only need to remove about a foot of the grass around the edge." I pleaded, as if my father could hear me. I knew what he would say if I asked him, "Make good with what you have. I told you that from the beginning."

Encircled by flowers, I pictured my garden of vegetables just as I had originally planned it. Nonetheless, I knew it was impossible to use my design with the limited space. I tried to modify the plan. I studied the area thoroughly; looked over the bare garden and the curving grass border. But, I still arrived at the same conclusion: I needed a few more yards. It was early in the morning and I looked around. I was alone.

With the edger in hand, I glanced up at my house and then sliced off a couple of inches of sod. It was almost impossible to notice. I buried the evidence immediately, making sure the fringe of sod and the fresh green grass were not in sight. Over the next two weeks, I repeated this same task removing a few more inches of sod each time. I believed the gradual increase in size would go unnoticed. And, according to plan, I sewed my garden and watched it grow into the beautiful vision that I had imagined.

Later in the summer, everyone enjoyed the fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchinis, string beans, and cantaloupes. My mother loved the cut Zinnias that decorated her favorite vase, and my father never noticed the missing turf. I was triumphant; my designs had worked.

One early morning in July, I stood before the garden marveling with pride at its pretty colors and robust bounty. The cicadas were buzzing, the sun glistened on the wet leaves, and the birds were chattering in the trees behind me. While gazing upon the bountiful garden, a small remarkable bird appeared. It hovered in the air drawing nectar from a large yellow cantaloupe blossom. Its ruby red head and iridescent kelly-green neck shimmered, like precious jewels in the first rays of that morning sun. It was a hummingbird; the first I had ever seen.

Just inches from where the silent bird hovered, I watched in awe. Suddenly, I knew that I was more than an observer; I belonged in the garden too - somehow I knew there was a bond between all living things. From the tiny seeds that I had planted, the blooming flowers attracted the hummingbird. And, like the bird, the flowers had attracted me. I felt connected to a magnificent world.

Later that day, I tried to describe my encounter in the garden and my all-too simple revelation, but no one cared to listen. "Oh, that’s nice," My brother said and then rolled his eyes. I finally buried the story like the stolen grass, yet my memory of the hummingbird and the two square yards of stolen turf remain within me, unchanged - until yesterday when my dying father inquired, "Do you remember that terrific garden you once had ... you know, when you cut away part of my lawn?"