Blood, Phlegm & Bile:
Parenting with Humor

Married Community Gardener ISO Friends with Vegetables

This will come as a surprise to my friends and former teachers who are familiar with my general attitude toward hard work and delayed gratification, but I'm planting some apple trees in my yard this spring. This is a big step for me. I've never even planted perennials before. I just didn't feel ready for the kind of long-term commitment that asparagus and rhubarb demand, to say nothing of trees that probably won't make any apples until my kids are in high school. The thought of digging in and working hard now for a potential benefit that won't even start for 4 or 5 years -- I didn't think I had it in me. Sounds like college, and I remembered how that worked out.

But having recently moved to a place where I hope to put down some roots, I've decided to put down some roots. And to show you how much I've changed since college, I've been studying diligently about organic fruit growing. From all this reading I have retained one key tip: If you have only one variety of apple tree, it won't produce much fruit. You need cross-pollination among a diverse community of trees for maximum benefit in the orchard.

The same secret to success applies in a community garden. Not so much to the plants, although a wide variety of vegetables makes for a healthy garden ecosystem. But when the different kinds of squashes pollinate each other, a volunteer vine will sprout from your compost pile the next season and produce a zucchumpkin or some other splotchy, inedible hybrid that's as odd but not nearly as much fun as a labradoodle. So the concept applies more to the people. As we've all seen in countless ways, the greatest strength of a community garden is the diversity of the gardeners, each of whom brings a unique set of skills, experiences, backgrounds, personalities, recipes and jokes, producing a garden that is much more fruitful and fun than it would be if we all had more in common.

But digging holes for fruit trees gives you plenty of time and incentive to stop and think, and I've started to wonder how far the analogy goes. I'm playing matchmaker out there, after all, setting up trees I think are compatible with each other. Love is literally in the air in the orchard and the garden, in every grain of pollen floating on the breeze or catching a ride on a honeybee's leg in hopes of hooking up with just the right female flower. We always talk about the friendships that form in a community garden. But in such a sensual place, do more intimate bonds naturally form among the gardeners too?

I don't know the answer personally, because I'm lucky enough not to be on the dating scene anymore. But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that love connections are being made in the garden. To find out, I conducted some research on various online dating sites. (If my wife checks my Internet browsing history, I'm going to have some splainin to do.) As I suspected, community gardens are widely recommended as popular date destinations.

For example, a website that gives dating advice for divorced dads (which looks especially bad on my "Favorites" list) encourages older guys reentering the market to eschew the bar scene and head for the neighborhood community garden. And even a site with dating tips for teens lists community gardens as a fun place for young people to hang out, albeit well down the list below bowling, miniature golf, and factory tours.

Another website,, claims community gardening will make you more attractive to other singles (after a shower, presumably). Apparently your image as an environmentally conscious, community-minded altruist appeals to potential partners. "Plus," the site generalizes, "urban farmer dudes are super hot."

Present company excepted, of course. But just as some dimly lit bars are known as meat markets, sunny community gardens are total vegetable markets! What with all the pollen-drenched honeybees diving into flowers and the vines intertwining with each other and the glistening fruits, the charged atmosphere of a garden makes it the perfect place to put humans in the mood for love. You can't help thinking about the birds and the bees when they're flying all around your head.

By recommending it as a good place for a nervous couple to relax and overcome the stress of a first date, these websites recognize the amazing power of a community garden to break down the social and physical barriers that often prevent us from getting to know other people in our community. We each have our own space in the garden, but there are no fences between the plots, only pathways leading from one to another. This makes it easier to form relationships, and not just romantic ones. None of our superficial differences matter, because we immediately have important things to talk about, like why it's so hard to germinate carrot seeds, what to do with all the zucchini, and so on.

So even if you don't find romance in the community garden this season, you are sure to hang out with a group of really fun, interesting and diverse people, and you will improve each other and the garden through cross-pollination. The more experienced growers will happily impart their knowledge of gardening (and life), and the new crop of gardeners will enrich the soil with fresh energy and excitement. And when you leave for the day, they will all probably share some fresh, healthy food with you. Now that's what I call friends with benefits.

© 2011 John Hershey

Other Father Issues, Books

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. - Peter Ustinov

John Hershey is a dad, a writer, and a lawyer (in that order). He writes a syndicated biweekly humor column about parenting and family life.. His columns have been published or accepted for publication on websites and in magazines around the world, from Maine to Oregon, Colorado down to Texas, and down under in Australia.

Blood, Phlegm & Bile: Parenting with Humor appears monthly on But, why the gross title? Well, for one thing these are three substances with which every parent becomes quite familiar. They were also called the "humors" by medieval scientists who believed that the proportion of these bodily fluids determined a person's health and temperament. So it's a pun! A pun requiring a lengthy explanation, but a pun nonetheless. E-Mail and

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