On a scale of one to ten, I rate about a four when it comes to gardening. I garden like someone who was raised by New-York-City parents, which is probably because I was raised by New-York-City parents. While not every gardener is hampered by having parents who hardly ever saw dirt, apparently it had a genetic impact on me. (My father always told us that he’d go camping when the woods were domed and air-conditioned.)

My lack of gardening skill doesn’t stop me from trying. I’m out there every year, tormenting tomatoes and making eggplant and pepper seedlings wish they’d never sprouted. I try really, really hard. In the beginning, all is well. The veggies seem content in their little beds. Breezes are cool, and promise lingers on the air. The plants are happy, I’m happy, and hope abounds.

Until it doesn’t.

I continue trying as the temperatures spike into the 90s. I make an effort when the weeds spring up. I feed the plants every two weeks, just as the nice lady at the garden center advised. I water regularly, trying to find that sweet spot between too much and not enough.

The plants reward me by producing just enough harvest to make me think I’m finally getting the hang of making things grow but never enough to be even in shouting distance of “bountiful.” I can’t help mentally calculating how much it would cost to just buy this stuff at a farmstand.

So, why do I keep coming back for more?

Because some things work. My herbs make me happy. Perennials return like I have something to offer them, and annuals seem pleased to join the party. A few may drop out in the middle of the season (I’m looking at you, tarragon), but each year even those herbs make it further into summer and offer more growth.

Also, some things are fixable. That year the deer came and ate what in the retelling has become the Biggest Harvest Ever? Consistent use of deer netting made that a memory. Those times I planted veggies that require yardage instead of footage? Easy: just stop planting that stuff. (Note to self: especially stop planting that stuff when you can’t even grow zucchini, because apparently even toddlers can grow zucchini.) Failure can be useful if you let it.

But mostly I keep gardening because of that hope-abounding thing. I’m not a summer person, at least not where I live. The muggy heat makes me tired and cranky. Hope is what gets me through the hot, barren expanse of days. It offers the possibility that maybe something fresh and verdant will spring up during a time when that seems unlikely to happen on a personal level. I need to hang onto the hope my garden gives until the crisp breath of fall allows me to more easily channel it on my own.

So this is a call to all successful gardeners, to anyone who has stood back, looked at their garden, and sighed with satisfaction. Help me out, please. How do I encourage my little sprouts to reach their full potential? How do I vanquish pests, stress, and other typical issues I know nothing about? If something has worked for you, let me know by either commenting on this post or via my email (jillmorrowbooks@gmail.com).

My beleaguered plants thank you from the tips of their little roots.