The Toad In My Garden, Or, the Importance of Non-Goal Oriented Teaching

Aug 27, 2013

Earlier this summer I resolved that I would plant a garden. Nothing large or particularly taxing, just an 8 x 8 foot plot, turned with a shovel. I went to the big local hardware/nursery place to get some seeds, only to find that their remaining vegetable seeds had been returned to the warehouse. It was “too late in the season”, they said, and everyone had already put their gardens in.

I was too late.

Totally bummed, I headed on down the road, and was about to pass by  the local feed store, kept afloat by one of those “characters” you hear about and don’t really want to encounter. You know, the sort of woman who will keep you standing there for 20 minutes while she tells you about the right proportion of wet vegetable matter to laying pellets for your chickens, which you can derive by keenly observing the color of the yolks of the chicken’s eggs.

I succumbed to hope and pulled into the feed store parking lot. Entering the store, I was rewarded.  Vegetable seeds, many varieties and types of vegetable seeds! I was very happy, and rapidly gathered the seeds I wanted. As I turned to the counter and joined the checkout line, the “character” appeared. Her mouth smiled, but her eyes narrowed. She looked at the seeds in my hand, and asked, “Are you sure those are the ones you want?”

“Why wouldn’t I want them?” I replied.

“Because I have cheaper ones back here in the bulk section, seeds that haven’t been treated with all them pesticides and better for you.”

Thirty minutes later I was back in the checkout line, having saved approximately three dollars. Within the week my seeds were planted and I sat back to wait. A week after that, my wife began comparing me to Toad from the story, “The Garden”.

I fretted, complained, worried, and dreamed. My garden wasn’t growing the way I thought it should. First there were no plants. Then there were plants, but no flowers. Next there were flowers, but no vegetables.  I asked myself, “Have I seen bees?”

I convinced myself I had not.  I found a pipe cleaner and attempted to pollinate the plants myself.

My garden was not meeting my goals.

I gave up on my garden. I had weeded, watered, and my ungrateful garden ignored me. It grew in weird ways, and on a completely unpredictable schedule.  I went away with my family on a two week vacation. I gave no instructions to our house sitters regarding the garden. Coming down the driveway at the end of the vacation, I expected to see a fenced-in mass of weeds and crabgrass.

Instead, I was amazed.

The zucchini plants were bearing. The cucumber I had given up on was climbing its pole and displaying the most exquisite yellow flowers. The squash plants had grown through the gaps in the fence and were spreading all over the yard. My excruciatingly honest 8 year old declared with surprise and wonder, “Wow Dad, your garden really looks nice!”

I felt ashamed.

Then I got it.

I had been anxious because I started my garden “late”.

I had been worried because, once planted, my garden wasn’t growing according to the chart in the book or my vain expectations.

I was upset because my garden didn’t yield the same as that of my friend at church.

I was grumpy and resentful because my garden was slow.

Three weeks of gentle guidance and humble weeding later, and in spite of my best efforts, my family began enjoying fresh vegetables from “my” garden.

I am indeed a Toad.

The consolation is that God made my garden grow anyway.

Bryan Simpers

Bryan Simpers was born in Japan and teaches Middle School Humanities at Providence Classical School in Williamsburg, VA. Bryan and his wife Amy have three children, three cats, two dogs, two Guinea Pigs, two goldfish, and at last count, twenty-nine free-ranging chickens. Bryan has been a firefighter, character interpreter, writer, reluctant actor, and a supervisor at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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