I used to be a houseplant serial killer despite aspirations of having a green thumb. Lush Boston ferns would succumb to too much heat and direct sun on our front porch while indoor plants would die a slow death from being overwatered and then neglected. I dreamed of having a lush fruit and vegetable garden like the one I grew up with in my childhood California home but I couldn’t help that our yard was a deer superhighway and they treated our blueberry bushes, tomato plants, and tulips like fast food.
My relationship with plants was frustrating because I knew what was possible despite having a black thumb.
One spring day when I had a preschooler and toddler and our afternoons were spent outside, I started little projects around our yard. I began fixing the edging on our flower bed because it was a way I could keep busy or make myself available to participate in their imaginative play as we enjoyed the fresh air and sun together.
Soon one flower bed then became two and then our fancy new beds needed plants. We made a trip to the garden store to buy potted plants and pick out some seeds to fill the bed with flowers that I hoped I could keep alive.
Right next to the flower seeds were the racks of vegetable seeds. The kids and I had been reading picture books like The Carrot Seed, From Seed to Plant, and Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow, Eating the Alphabet, and Growing Vegetable Soup. Winter’s chill was gone and the days were getting longer. I knew from my childhood that it was the perfect time to plant.
I grabbed a carrot variety that promised to be easy to grow and sweet. I recalled how easy it was to grow cucumbers and how much I loved plucking red ripe cherry tomatoes right off the vine as a kid. Lettuce and spinach were supposed to be easy to grow and the kids could harvest them with their safety scissors, right?
Soon I had a thick stack of seed packets but I felt like the little boy in The Carrot Seed. There was a voice in the back of my head saying they wouldn’t grow but I hoped my optimism would help them flourish.
Fast forward eight years and as the sun shone on my back on a beautiful fall day, I found myself remembering how we started our family garden during my visit to the White House Kitchen Garden. I recalled how little my kids were at the time but how instrumental they were in helping and why their enthusiasm keeps our garden going to this very day.
During the garden dedication the next day, Michelle Obama talked about her own doubts about the success of the garden saying, “I had my own doubts. What if we just got a few sad little tomatoes and a bunch of weeds?”
But as I surveyed the South Lawn while digging holes to sink pots of peppers, basil, green beans, and sweet potatoes in the soil on a gorgeous fall day, there was no doubt that the White House Kitchen Garden is a success and a legacy that Michelle Obama wants to preserve.
Like the White House Kitchen Garden that’s tripled in size since 2009, we started small. We began with plants that were easy to grow and fun to harvest. I remember their little feet stepping carefully between seedlings, tiny hands plucking off Sun Gold tomatoes and popping them in their mouth, and looks of pure ecstasy on their faces as they savored the taste of what they grew.
Just as the White House Kitchen Garden supplies fruits and vegetables to the First Family, guests at White House events like State Dinners, and to homeless shelters in the local community, what was once our experiment in backyard gardening has become a huge source of our family’s produce. Our little garden patch has become a a fenced in vegetable garden where we grow anything the kids want to plant.
Now ages 10 and almost 13, my two children spearhead efforts to go beyond what is easy to the more interesting and exotic. They’re the ones scanning garden catalogs and the racks at gardening centers for new things we should plant along with tried and true favorites. Okra is a favorite to grow and each year we wait for the tips of the asparagus to break through the soil.
We patiently await buds on our apricot trees, look forward to a more mature fig tree next year, and those blueberry bushes? The deer have learned to stay away from thanks to our Yellow Labrador but they’re right at pecking height for our three backyard chickens whose eggs are the best we’ve ever tasted. Maybe one day we’ll have a bee hive like the one you can see from outside the south fence of the White House!
And my black thumb? I’m happy to say that the produce we harvest proves that anyone can start their own garden. I’m also pretty thankful the White House didn’t know about my failed attempts with houseplants or else they might not have ever invited me to join them for a morning of planting in the White House Kitchen Garden.
What was it like to sit down with Michelle Obama the next day and talk about the White House Kitchen Garden that led to the impactful Let’s Move program? Read Why Interviewing Michelle Obama at the White House Felt Like Visiting a Good Friend to learn more!
All photos courtesy of Leticia Barr, all rights reserved. For more photos from my visit with Michelle Obama and the White House Kitchen Garden, please visit my Flickr album. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. Thanks to SheKnows for inviting me to cover the Let’s Move! Capstone Event and to sit down with Mrs. Obama to talk about her legacy as First Lady.