In a concrete garden, in a plastic swimming pool, I grew a tomato.
I've always liked gardening at least I have for the last five years. I’ve always felt connected to the earth, to the flowers, to the trees. But there was a time in my life when I couldn’t grow anything. I couldn’t keep a cactus or an air plant alive. I had a black thumb. But in the last five years I've learned to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, lettuce. I've also learned to grow herbs and wildflowers.
One year I change jobs, it was a good job change, I was moving up in my career but I would be leaving some things behind. You see at my old job I had created a beautiful garden. We had raised beds, good soil and a maintenance man who loved to bring me compost and manure for fertilizer. My new job didn't have a beautiful backyard. It didn't have a place to plant a garden. No raised garden boxes, no maintenance man with manure or compost to give me. All I had was a concrete parking lot. I remember standing in the parking lot and thinking this is concrete, how am I going to grow a Garden on concrete? I wanted to garden. I wanted my clients to have a garden. I wanted my clients to feel what It felt like to put their hands in the soil, to plant something, to nurture it and watch it grow. So, I devised a plan.
I was going to grow a garden on concrete in plastic swimming pools. You know the kind that you buy for your kids to play in when it’s so hot you can’t stand it, but you also can’t stand the public pool nor do you have the yard space or the finances for your own. You know the ones you buy from Walmart for about 10 bucks. Yep, those so I preceded to put together my plan. I needed Plastic pools, I needed soil, I needed plants and I needed fertilizer. There were other things I needed as well like gardening tools and free labor. I told my coworkers and my team the plan. They stood with me in parking lot and said, “wow you’re going to try to grow a garden on concrete”? I said no, I’m “going” to grow a garden on concrete in plastic swimming pools. I don’t think they believed that anything would grow but it sure would be fun to try.
Soon the whole office was involved in the project. A family owned Garden center donated about 50 different plants way more than I expected and way more than I had pools for, so I made many trips to Walmart and family dollar for more plastic swimming pools. My coworkers and now free laborers soon began the work of creating a concrete garden. Some punched holes in the bottom of the pools for drainage, others lugged bags upon bags of soil out of the backseat and trunk of my car, others filled the pools with 3-5 bags of soil while others kept the donated plants alive while we prepared their habitat.
It was a hot summer and the concrete sizzled. Soon all the pools were filled. I sprinkled fertilizer and I scratched the soil. We couldn't afford really good soil so it was kind of chunky but I was determined to have a garden. Soon the children came and they planted the lettuce and bell peppers and banana peppers. They planted flowers, cabbage and tomato. We had so many plants that some died before they reached the plastic pools.
After the vegetables were planted I noticed that we didn’t have a water source. Maybe I should have thought of that before I started planting? This was a dilemma. How was I going to get water to my concrete garden? At first the kids filled up gallon milk jugs and carried the water. It was like we were in a developing country walking through a hot barren desert. The kids carried them from the building to the garden. It would take many trips to get enough water every day. It was hot and we couldn’t get enough water to the plants so they started to die. I had to think fast. What was I going to do? The garden is going to die I thought, we worked too hard I couldn’t let this happen.
Once again, the gardening team came through we all searched the back of the building, there had to be a water source in the back of the building somewhere and low and behold there was. Of course, it was a far distance from the garden. A regular hose would not reach. So, I had to go in search of one of those Magic hoses the kind that extends when the water flows and recoils when the water stops. I found one for cheap.
Me and my team hooked it up. We took turns watering the concrete garden almost every day. We made sure it had water and proper drainage. We ended up with bell peppers, banana peppers, a head of cabbage and deformed cucumbers it was a bad year for cucumbers. The flowers had bloomed and were vibrate and colorful. But the tomatoes hadn’t grown. I watched them every day. Nothing, the season was coming to a close. The tomatoes looked exactly the same as the day we planet them. I remember thinking they must be dormant. Why are they not growing? Maybe they need more fertilize? maybe there are too many in the pool? so I added more fertilizer and started pulling out some of the plants. By the end of it all I was left with three plants out of 8. I stood back and thought to myself surly this is enough room. They are getting enough sun, I’m watering them, I have given them plant food they have everything they need to grow. I again thought to myself “maybe they are dead”.
Every day I went out to the garden to look at the beautiful flowers and check the tomatoes. I was frustrated, everything else had been picked. The season was over. I had failed these tomatoes plants. I remember asking one of my team members if I should just pull them up. He said no give them a little more time. I didn’t want to pull them up. Me and the tomatoes had become friends, I wanted them to grow to transform. I couldn’t understand I had nurtured them and given them all they needed why were they not producing?
Weeks passed and August came to an end. I needed to pull and turn the soil in the pools. I remember feeling sad. I felt sad for the tomato plants, I felt sad for me after all, I had in the past created beautiful vegetable gardens. Was it over? Would I never be able to have a vegetable garden in my workplace?
Then one day I walked out onto the concrete to check just one last time before I called it quits and there I saw two small red tomatoes. In the mist of everything, in the mist of all the adversity, overcrowding, poor soil, scorching sun, poor hydration. In the mist of all the doubt, the impatience, the frustration. Despite all the barriers that tomato plant decided that it was not giving up, it decided that it was going to grow.
What I learned that day is so important. I learned that one can have everything they think they need to grow and still not flourish right away. I learned that patience is important when adversity and barriers raise their ugly heads. I learned that despite the adversities and barriers one can overcome when there is hope sometimes that is all that is needed. My tomato plant only needed me to give her time, she needed me to be patient. She needed me to believe and be hopeful.
So, to you reading this. When there are things in your life that look like they cannot be overcome, when it is hot and you don’t have what you think you need. I am here to tell you that all you need is patience and hope and you too can grow tomatoes in a plastic swimming pool in a concrete garden.