How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?


by Tammie Ortlieb

Good, honest, hardheaded character is a function of the home. If the proper seed is sown there and properly nourished for a few years, it will not be easy for that plant to be uprooted. ~George A. Dorsey 

Late May, when danger of all frost had passed in this frigid Michigan I call home, my husband and I trekked over to the local nursery. Carting some hopeful cucumber plants, a couple of iffy tomato starts, a very macho looking hot pepper, and a bit of basil to sweeten things up, we paid for our goods and transported them to their new home. We proceeded to dig and bury and stamp and water, my husband and me. We erected cages and stakes and all sorts of creative protection against total annihilation from one overzealous Collie and his Maltipoo sidekick. These two hooligans have been known to destroy even the burliest of foliage. 

In a split second, or faster even than that, they can put to rest a lily I have tended with full heart and gentle hand for months on end. Not that they intend to crush my dreams in one racing barkfest. They are children and sometimes lacking in canine common sense. So my husband and I guarded our seedlings against both predators and the shenanigans of our furry friends. 

I eagerly checked my beauties the very next morning, expecting, of course, that they would be huge and flowering and giving all sorts of indication of future use in salads, side dishes, and organic sustenance. They were not any of these things. They were the same, the same as when I had laid them into the earth. So, I did what any good gardener would do”I fretted. I watered and I sturdied my stakes and I watered just a bit more and I fretted. And I did the same the very next morning, especially the fretting part. I became, in fact, an expert in fretting, and hovering. Psychologists warn against a new phenomenon which they call helicopter parenting, the idea that parents of this generation feel compelled to micromanage their children’s lives. Parents hover and fret and hover more, and, like a helicopter, never quite go much of anyplace while causing a tremendously disturbing ruckus. Instead, say experts, these moms and dads should sometimes say to their children, “Just go play in the mud,” or “You’re bored” Good, it’s good to be bored sometimes.” And just because your child picks up a guitar doesn’t mean he needs lessons; not every child needs to belong to a team; sometimes it”s totally acceptable to run around the front yard playing Boneyard or Capture the Flag. Well. Well I was a helicopter gardener. I was hovering, hovering and fretting. 

In reality, the part of life that I so suck at sometimes, in reality, my part in the growth of my tiny treasures was actually quite small. Even the watering could be done by the rain. Nature truly was the master gardener. I was there merely to help her out. When I get that reality concept stuck in my head just right, I know that it is the same with my children. I am the helper gardener, the carrier of the watering can, the erector of the stakes. It is my job to put up the supports that will help my children grow strong and tall and in the right direction, not all winding and bent over like that crooked little man in the rhyme who had all manner of crookedness in his life. It is my job to provide strength and protection against those who might get in the way of the growing of my seedlings. 

When my children were small, I read every book on parenting I could possibly find. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I jam packed my brain space with how-to’s, personal essays, and those snazzy pamphlets that litter the tables of doctors” offices. I devoured works by Brazelton, Spock, and Penelope Leach. I crammed as a coed during midterms; I interrogated new mothers; I subscribed to entire lists of parenting magazines. I joined La Leche League. Heck, I became a La Leche League leader. I signed my babies up for Mommy and me gym classes at the local YMCA, started playgroups, and bought all the developmentally correct toys. I played the right games, sang the right songs, spoke to my children in a grown-up voice using grown-up vocabulary. They would, if I could make it happen, grow up smart and challenged and feeling as loved as they could possibly feel. I was, if I am being honest, hovering. I was fretting. My goal was not only to HAVE children, to bear them and water occasionally when the rain was a little behind schedule, but to actively parent these children; to be, in a word, the master gardener. 

How dare I assume such a pompous stance” 

Master, according to my well worn copy of Roget’s Thesaurus (I am so old school sometimes), translates to boss, leader, chief, controller. Ugh, this cannot be good. When I look up mother, I see that I am instead supposed to nourish, sustain, foster, guard. How can I do that if I am acting as governing manager, superior and all expert-like at the same time’ I am a word nerd and as such I know that nourishing implies feeding, nursing, providing the very fuel for life. I know that to foster means to care for, to raise, to help. Ah, help. 

I am just a curious sort really, and it is in my nature to control, to hover. I am learning, albeit slowly, to step back, let go, allow nature to water, fertilize, and shine the sun upon my children’s faces. I am learning that sometimes the most spectacular lily flourishes among a field of weeds. And there is a reason for that. There is a reason which I have no part of. No, I am the carrier of the watering can, the erector of the stakes. It is my job to help, to arm my children with vision, vision with which they might see the possibilities of a totally plant based society, and with the resources to acquire knowledge to bring that goal to realization. It is my job to equip them with information to make both educated decisions and snappy comebacks to ill-meaning omnivores. It is my job to love and nurture them so nature’s work is not in vain, to whisper to them occasionally in a coddling manner as I do my begonias. It is my job to do my job, not to overstep my boundaries in some parental ego trip. 

Now, in the longest and driest of summer days, my cucumbers choke from thirst. They are parched and trying, trying hard to mature and give of themselves. Nature has done her job, but she is tired. Now I must do mine. I rush to their aid with my watering can, rusted as it might be, knowing that this is why I exist as mother, to foster, to help. 

“Gardening” tips for the eager parent: 

  • Plant in good soil – Regardless the age old maxim to do as I say, not as I do, children learn what they see; let your child see a kind, healthy, gentle vegan role model
  • Water daily – Provide plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, resolve to become a healthy vegetarian, not merely a meatless eater
  • Provide plenty of sunshine – Love and kisses, hugs and kind, positive words are as critical to development as the proverbial bread and dairy-free butter
  • Keep your tools sharp – Educate yourself in order that you might better educate your children; check out websites such as,,, magazines such as VegNews, and other sources that keep you up-to-date on happenings in the field of nutrition and vegetarianism
  • Stake for support – Role play occasionally if your child might encounter a tough situation such as a birthday party, school holiday celebration, or sleepover with non-vegan friends; put the power in your child”s hands so that she might utilize that power again in the future on other similar occasions
  • Weed often – Children are often free with advice and words of wisdom whether correct or just totally off the wall; your little one may come home from school or a friend”s house with information that is in need of quick correction; let your child know that her friend probably meant well, but just doesn”t have all the facts
  • Gather tips from others – Share with other vegetarian parents through sites. Find answers to problems, provide encouragement, aid a fellow gardener
  • Wait – Sometimes the biggest growth happens when we aren’t looking, occasionally we must turn our heads, zip our mouths, and just watch in wonder


Tammie Ortlieb

Author: Tammie Ortlieb

Freelance writer and former instructor of psychology, Tammie has a Masters Degree in Developmental Psychology with special emphasis on child and adolescent development. She maintains a blog at and is the author of Outside the Lines and Freeing my Inner Blonde which can both be found at She’s a book nerd, a health nerd, and a huge glass of soymilk half full kind of gal.

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