In reminiscing about the golden memories of my childhood, I so clearly remember the moment I was first introduced to gardening. It was not through some revelation that completely changed how I see nature or some life-changing event that altered the course of my life, but a small lesson planted in me that eventually grew to something I can now appreciate.
It all started in the kitchen, as do all great things, and I was helping my a-ma (grandma) cook her famous Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice). I asked her about the secret to her cooking, and of course, love was the answer, but like the rich and savory soy sauce aroma permeated through the kitchen when she opened the bubbling pot of brown meat cooking in spices, I further badgered her for an answer — love could not be smelled. A slew of “ayahs” left her lips, leaving me disoriented and she motioned for me to follow her into the backyard.
The savory aroma was soon left behind and replaced with the earthy scent of dirt and the crisp air stung my nose. We closed in on a small patch of sectioned-off dirt in the garden, and my a-ma proceeded to pick fresh rosemary, motioning for me to follow.
I excitedly started to follow her motions but as my hungry hands were getting ready to ravage the plants, my a-ma stopped me, showing me her patient, methodical picking methods.
As an annoyed sigh left my lips, she chastised me on my impatience. I replied saying they were only plants, and they were going to end up eaten anyway. A wistful sigh escaped her, and she quoted Confucius, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
The old proverb continued to ring through my head. We soon moved onto a patch of land that contained green onions. Digging, my nose close to the dirt, I deeply inhaled the slightly peppery scent of the onion. My a-ma then dug her hands into the dirt and roughly pulled the stubborn green onion from the ground. I was a bit surprised at the hidden strength my a-ma had.
She then carefully dusted the dirt off of all the crevices and rinsed the plants with a garden hose. I followed her, not quite matching her efficient pace from all the seasoned years of experience, but mostly observed her dedication and hard work attending to each and every plant. Her meticulous work and concentrated gaze left me speechless, and I took the time to simply admire the plants.
As my thoughts lulled on, I found myself disheartened at the idea of the plants withering away. I found a shriveled plant and plucked it from its roots to analyze it.
As another sigh escaped me, my a-ma told me that the “runt” plants could still be used to make a delicious meal. It was her own way of telling me that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
In retrospect, the importance of gardening for me had grown much more than what I had expected. When the pandemic hit, I found myself returning to the plants, taking on the mantle of a gardener and starting my own little garden.
Though it does not necessarily resemble the haven my a-ma had, it does feel like home, and that’s really all I need. These days I pray I can visit her again in Taiwan soon, see how her new luscious haven there has grown. I hope to create new memories like those of making Lu Rou Fan with her, but for now, I will tend to my own garden as a yearn for hers.