Saturday, July 10, 2010

How Not to Grow Basil

It all started last summer when I discovered that Fr. Steve is an exceptional cook and that all of his best recipes include basil.  Unfortunately, basis can be on the expensive side at the grocery store.  While a number of parishioners grow basil by the acre, and are usually inclined to share it with the priests, none of us wants to create a Peter Rabbit/Farmer McGregor sort of scenario as we wander about their gardens under the cover of darkness (which is usually when we get around to eating supper on weekends).  I decided then that we should probably have a garden of our own.  Sadly, we live in a rectory surrounded by concrete and with little lawn to spare.  It became clear that a garden would have to be installed at the home of someone else.  Susan Safford, uninterested in maintaining a lawn or flowerbeds volunteered her backyard.  I eagerly accepted the offer.  Besides the obvious benefits of having a garden, this little project would afford me an opportunity to spend time with the local boys who find it easier to talk while doing something.  It's a guy thing . . .

With the help of the broad shoulders and more limber back of a local teen-aged boy, we used shovels to till the soil of an until recently untamed weed bed, discarding as many of the ornamental rocks as possible.  We eliminated the larger clumps of sod, pulled the nettles, and discarded the body of a deceased rose bush.  We raked the garden down and leveled it (more or less), and left it for the evening.  The following day, I returned with two teenagers in tow to plant radishes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and basil.  A couple of weeks later, we were able to see the beginnings of the fruit of our labors.  The carrots were sprouting along with the radishes.  The cucumbers looked great, and I smiled at the peas in their crooked row.  I had never seen happier tomatoes.  The only thing to elude me was the basil.  Having never grown it before, I wasn't sure what it looked like, but I knew where we had laid the three rows of seeds, so I wasn't concerned.  It would become obvious eventually.

Now, after six weeks, I have tasted every weed in the garden hoping to find one that proves to be basil.  Nothing.  As far as I can tell, not a single seed germinated.  I don't know why.  Perhaps it was too cool or perhaps I over watered it.  Perhaps I mistakenly plucked it thinking it to be weeds.  Whatever the case may be, there is nothing that tastes even vaguely of basil in that garden.  While everything else is thriving, the one plant I had hoped to grow in abundance has eluded me.  This means no free pesto, nor any of the other lovely basil recipes I had hoped to enjoy as the basil harvest came in.  

There are a variety of spiritual lessons to be drawn from this experience.  I can't control everything.  I need to let God be in charge, etc, etc, etc.  The true cynic in me, however, cannot help but remember all the times I have been met with disappointment in the past year when people have assured me, "Remember, you are planting seeds."  I hope they grow better than the basil.


If at first you don't succeed, you can always cheat.  Walmart, with whom I typically try to avoid doing business, still has a vast array of plant sets.  The nice thing about these is that someone else has already done the work of making the seeds germinate and grow into pleasant little plants.  As a result, I now have eight basil plants and three cilantro plants living at peace next to the tomatoes.  I am wet to the bone from planting in the rain (I hadn't the patience to wait until dryer weather), but my visions of pesto may still come to pass.

In keeping with my cynical speculation about seeds yesterday, I offer the following spiritual lesson.  When it is too hard to make the seeds of conversion grow, one should give up and concern oneself with those people in whom these seeds have already germinated into a healthy little plant.   


  1. There's still time to take care of your basil needs. You can probably still find basil starts at local farmer's market, home improvement stores, or even get a few from other gardeners. Then you can attempt transplanting to the established garden or simply plant in containers for use at the rectory. Keep the containers small enough and you can keep the basil going during the winter.

    As for why the seeds didn't germinate, who knows? Bad batch of seeds, bad timing, or just plain bad luck. No one but God has complete control and complete understanding.

  2. Oh, man, you've inspired another blog post for me ... when to write, when to write!


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