Op-Ed: Growing hope in a good enough garden

A Long Beach community garden
A Long Beach community garden.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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My husband and I are front-line physicians. Each morning in the urgent care clinic, I take one precious Clorox wipe and decontaminate every computer keyboard, mouse and telephone. At home, we engage in another ritual of cleansing: scrubs, cellphone, keys, our very selves. After a long shift at the hospital, I worry each surface, each breath, each molecule could be contaminated, a fear magnified because I am 28 weeks pregnant.

Back when the world was different, my husband and I leased a community garden plot, 2 feet by 3 feet. We promised each other that when spring came we would buy seed packets, netting and fertilizer; we would read up and carefully select the most perfect plants to take root in our borrowed patch of earth.

Now it is spring, and around our plot master gardeners are working their magic: Delicate pea shoots twine up trellises, fat strawberries ripen under plastic casing, crunchy bunches of kale look to be halfway to a salad.


But ours is the Garden of Good Enough. We never bought those seeds or tools, never fulfilled the intentions of a world where ventilators are not rationed, and I don’t wake up wondering if today will be the day one of us starts running a fever.

Instead of flawless flora, we nurture what we have. In one corner of the plot a stub of ginger from the back of our pantry sprouts a unicorn bud. In another corner, mini bell pepper seedlings show their leaves — origin: a takeout meal. Leftover bits of mint and basil root in ex-salsa jars on our kitchen counter; we’re hoping for a successful transplant.

This scrappy little garden grants me perspective, a sense of equal parts control and release. I notice with glee that our garlic bulb, found almost desiccated during a vacuuming, is pushing greenery toward the sky. The cilantro, though, has been wholly devoured by snails.

In the Garden of Good Enough, a brush with the soil doesn’t require us to drench ourselves in sanitizer. The wind cools my maskless face. My baby kicks inside me, and I have a sudden, bright urge to speak with my paternal grandmother, gone for almost 20 years. At the outbreak of World War II, she was pregnant with my father, and I imagine her steadfastly tending a Victory Garden and wondering what sort of world her son would be born into.

Our sacred little rectangle, far removed from politics and anxiety, perseveres. Even with so much uncertainty, we must keep growing hope.

Dr. Valerie Gribben is an assistant professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco and the author of a young adult novel “The Fairytale Trilogy.”