The real gift of a garden isn’t its ability to grow fruits and vegetables. It is to save marriages.

Planting a garden, much like starting a marriage, is full of hope and love. You are excited for the prospects after a long winter of loneliness. You have confidence that the seeds that have been planted will grow beautiful things and will sustain you for times to come, even if the “garden” doesn’t maybe have the best of soil or there are some rocks in it or it needs some fertilizer. You still enter into beginning a garden or a marriage with the highest of hopes.

But when the seeds begin to grow, so do the weeds. Lots of them. Sometimes you can’t get to the weeds right away. Maybe you can’t really tell what a plant is and what a weed is at first. After all, you might not have much experience in making such distinctions. Or maybe you think the carrots look so spotty that they aren’t worth weeding. Maybe the peas didn’t germinate like you thought they should and you are tempted to till them under and start over. Maybe the in-laws have interfered in the marriage, err, I mean the rabbits have nibbled away at your garden and you think that all is lost

You suddenly realize that maybe this isn’t going to be so easy. It won’t be the first or last time you will ruminate on your next step. When you are deciding on that next step, make sure you keep the things that are good and pitch out the things that are bad.

The garden might be able to help you save your marriage if you let it. Take for instance a stubborn spouse that is not in the frame of mind to reason with. Maybe words or reason just won’t work at the moment (or perhaps any moment). Taking a dull hoe to stubborn pig weed in the garden is better than the best divorce lawyer in the world. You come away having hacked something to pieces that was irritating you AND you won’t be going to prison for it.

Many is the time that a round, red ripe tomato can turn an angry heart into a thankful one. Maybe the fact that celery grew for the first time gives you hope in your marriage too. Maybe finding slugs in your strawberries distracts you from other slow moving things that leave a messy trail in your life.

Maybe when you inspect the garden regularly, you will notice the crab crass or the weeds when they are small and easier to extricate. That works in marriages too. Finding the little things that are irritating and removing them is better than to let them grow and get good roots. Before you know it, if you haven’t taken care of the little nuisances, your garden is ruined and so are the vows you took those years ago when you got those new casserole dishes and bath towels as gifts.

Sometimes you might look at other people’s gardens with envy. “Why can’t I have blooming azaleas around the perimeter of my garden? Why can’t my corn grow this tall? It’s not fair that she has a fountain in her garden and I had to justify getting a new shovel!”

You might even be tempted to try to steal a Vidalia onion away from a friend on some dark, lonely night. That Vidalia looked so good, bending its luscious green stems and bulbs toward you. You can’t stop thinking about it. You think that Vidalia is better than your chives. But don’t take it. Be happy with your chives.

Better to not have the Vidalia and keep your neighbor than to steal a Vidalia and lose your friend. Besides, the Vidalia might turn out to be more bitter than the chives after all and you will live with regret and guilt the rest of your life.

Sometimes a garden just serves as a sounding board when you need one the most. Many is the gardener who has expounded to the green beans that life isn’t fair. Myriads of wives have told the potatoes that their husbands don’t listen to them. Husbands have expounded to the cabbage that their wives are nags. The vegetables remain neutral taking neither side. They listen and continue to grow and absorb the nastiness and frustration out of the air where no harm is done to anyone. No hurt feelings (though sometimes the sunflowers hang their heads) and no witnesses to the frustration (even if the potatoes have eyes and the corn has ears). The marriage has survived because of a release of energy in a positive way by harping and hoeing at the same time.

It is a miracle that all gardens don’t wither up and die from the neglect and ignorance of gardeners. But they can thrive and remind us that nature is beautiful; that we can help make more beauty; that we can be sustained and be the sustainers of a small patch of ground and of one relationship in a big, sometimes angry world.

Doreen Rosevold is a humorist/columnist from Mayville, ND.