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Even though I never grew up with a garden, growing and harvesting my own produce was a lifelong dream of mine. When I was younger, I remember a story someone told me after visiting their grandparents in Louisiana for summer break. They spoke about eating the sweetest tomato like you would an apple, and that it was the greatest tomato they had ever had. Since hearing about that tomato, I think I have always wanted to create a similar experience for myself and the people I love.
When I met Heather Trilling about landscaping our home in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I explained to her that my ultimate dream is making our home a closed ecosystem. Knowing that my lifestyle and job didn’t realistically allow for that, we took a page out of What About Bob?, and began with baby steps. We planted citrus trees, fruit trees, and built a raised bed where I could learn to garden. Not only did Heather help me design and build an enclosed raised bed that fits seamlessly and beautifully in our yard, but she provided me with all the assistance I needed to learn in my first seasons of gardening. I watched, I learned, and eventually grew confident that I could take care of it on my own.
I was already on a hiatus during the end of February this year, when I came home from location and started prepping my soil for my spring harvest. When sheltering in place began, I was relieved to have already planted all my seedlings. It sounded like nurseries were selling out as quickly as the canned food aisles. Looking back now on the past five months or so, my experience gardening has truly ebbed and flowed with my own emotional processing of the lockdown.
In the beginning months, nothing gave me more joy than watching a baby shelling pea or fava pod get fat and plump, or harvesting and eating my sweet kale, or watching my 2-year-old plum and peach trees bear their first fruit. I even started to enjoy the challenges snails and caterpillars would present. I started grinding up eggshells and leaving oil and vinegar traps. I felt purpose in washing away my aphids with soap and then eventually upgrading to the harder stuff of Monterey Garden’s organic pest control sprays. It was a joy to solve these frustrating but small issues during a time when the world had far bigger ones.
But after the first two or three months, all the favas and shelling peas were had, the young tomato plants were transplanted and ready for summer, and the broccolini was on its last shoots, and I got lazy. The kale and chard had overgrown, the peaches and plums were ravished by the squirrels and birds, and the lockdown was still happening. In the beginning months, I was so grateful for every day at home that it motivated me into joyful productivity. But when I became angry and frustrated by the pandemic and disheartened by the state of our country, my garden was neglected and seemed to be begging me for attention, growing beyond its limitations and overproducing bitter greens.
It wasn’t until the tomatoes ripened that I was rejuvenated. The garden reminded me there was always something to look forward to even in the smallest moments. I was reminded by my friends’ kids, who would visit my fiance, Robbie Arnett, and me in our backyard, social distancing, of course. And we would walk around picking and eating tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and bagging up lemons for the road. This magic and simple joy an ever-changing garden can bring is a constant reminder for me, of my gratitude for our health and my hope for the future.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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