Such a title might sound strange if you think of gardening as hoeing weeds on a sweltering day, but I will show you that gardening can be a powerfully romantic act. Pay attention, guys. A bit later, I will lay it all out for you. But first, some of you are probably thinking, “Isn’t it too late to start a garden for this summer?” To that, I have some good news: It’s not too late!
I was just at the farmer’s market on Saturday, and growers are still selling large plants at reasonable prices. (Each week that the plants don’t sell, they grow larger.) You can buy a 2-foot-tall tomato plant for under $5. A tomato plant is simple to take care of and will produce an abundance of amazingly flavorful, delicious toms at no additional cost. One tragedy of modern urban life is that, for many of us, we have no memory or reference point for what a real tomato tastes like. Here’s a hint: It has no resemblance to the flavorless, mealy, hard, light pink thing that you purchase at the grocery store or the kind that comes on your typical restaurant iceberg salad. Most of us cannot afford to buy perfect, vine-ripened, organic tomatoes at natural food stores for $5/lb., but the good news is that we don’t need to. For that same $5, you can grow your own and produce much more than one pound of fruit.
If tomatoes aren’t your thing, then what about herbs? A little fresh-snipped dill on your grilled fish; some thinly-chopped sweet basil tossed into a salad; a bit of tarragon seared onto a piece of chicken. Ahhh—a bit of heaven on earth. Fresh herbs are nothing like the dried-up stuff sitting in your cupboard. (How long have those jars been up there anyway?) And you need practically no space; since fresh herbs have so much flavor, you only need to use a little bit of them. A box or a few small pots resting on a high-rise windowsill will give you a season’s worth.
Or here’s something to try if you like salads: Make your own salad garden bed. It’s much easier than it sounds. You can pick up several packets of assorted seeds from the nearest hardware store and mix your own, or buy custom-blended seed from specialty companies (see links below). You can go conventional, or try a spicy exotic mix. Then, this is all you do: If your soil is hard or of poor quality, buy a couple bags of decent compost or potting mix (about $2/bag). Pick a little patch of ground—say 2 ft. by 2 ft.—that gets some sunlight. Clear away the weeds, grass and rocks and try to loosen up the soil a bit. (I’m sure you know someone that you can borrow a couple of garden tools from. This is the only time you’ll need them.) Since you are only preparing such a small space, this should only take about 15 or 20 minutes to prepare, and you’ll hardly break a sweat.
Loosen the soil with a garden fork. Dump out your bags of potting mix, mix it in and level it out. Then simply sift your seeds lightly across the entire surface of the soil. Maybe sift a tiny bit of dirt on top (to discourage birds) and mist it lightly with a little water. Don’t worry about rows. Keep this moist and weeded, and in a week you’ll have some tiny sprouts covering the entire surface. In no time, you will be rewarded with delicious salads. Come out and snip tiny leaves right into a colander. Most lettuces will grow back several times, so as long as you don’t pull out the roots, you will have steady greens all summer. Whenever it’s looking a little sparse, just sprinkle on a few more seeds.
Okay, as promised above, I’ve arrived at the place in this little sermon where I offer my primary application point: Fellas, growing vegetables is an act of romance and will impress women. I ask all of you women reading this to imagine, if you will, the following scenario. Then tell the guys if I’m right about this or not:
It is the first time you’ve been invited over for dinner at the home of a new acquaintance, a guy we’ll call James, who you really like and have become interested in. You know that guys are not generally known for their abilities in the kitchen, so when he invited you over to make dinner for you (!), you were taken aback and expected to be dining on something in the Raman noodle food group. Instead, as you walk into the apartment, the first thing you notice is this amazing aroma. “What is that?” you ask.
“Dinner,” says James with a shy smile. He leads you to the kitchen and offers you a glass of wine. On the stove, a pot of pasta is almost finished. (Tip: Guys, don’t cheap out on budget pasta. As it cooks, test it often so that it doesn’t get mushy; it should be a little firm. When it’s ready, strain it immediately. Also, no cheap, sawdust-like Parmesan cheese.)
The pasta is almost done, and in a small pot or maybe a skillet, James is sautéing some fresh minced garlic, chopped onion and freshly chopped tomatoes in olive oil. He hands you a pair of scissors and asks you step out on the deck to snip about 10 basil leaves from one of his herb pots—maybe a bit of parsley or oregano, too, if you feel like it. Yet another surprise.
You step out into the summer evening air and are amazed to see several pots growing beautiful, healthy plants. You find the herbs, and as you gently cut them, the fresh aroma fills the air. You bring them back inside, and James has you snip them up right into the skillet. A few more minutes of simmering, and he asks you to taste it. You are amazed by the freshness. The flavors are so vibrant.
And that’s it. Dinner is served. James puts out a simple but delicious salad of fresh mixed greens and herbs from his tiny salad bed (which he’ll show you later when you walk down to the garden). He had stopped at the bakery and picked up a loaf of crusty French bread. And with the pasta and fresh sauce, that’s all you need. Maybe for dessert, he serves some fresh sliced peaches with ice cream.
I’ll admit this romantic dinner requires more than just gardening and includes some cooking, too. But this cooking is simple and is really tied together with growing some of the ingredients yourself.
So what do you think, ladies? What do you think of James? What has this evening done for his ranking? Guys, this meal has cost you almost nothing. And how did this dinner compare in your date’s eyes to some fancy restaurant? Let’s ask her. Come on, ladies, let’s hear it. Don’t tell me my own personal experience has been an anomaly. Don’t tell me that my wife is the only one who appreciates this sort of thing. Let us know how you’ve felt about this evening with James.
READ MORE LIFE | POST COMMENTS BELOW