California poppies nod above snow-in-summer in William Allstetter's Denver garden. (William Allstetter, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The tomatoes are coming in… Most evenings after work and in the morning on weekends, I step gingerly around the tomato plants in the garden, push aside a branch or two and look for the telltale flash of red that signals a ripening tomato. Is it ready? Will it deliver the rich, savory flavor you just can’t find in store-bought tomatoes? Then pick it!

Over in the driveway planter box, I bend low and look up into the branches and leaves of the poblano pepper plants to find the dark green peppers that are harder to spot than the ripe red tomatoes. I check the flowering plants for their progress, their budding blossoms and fading flowers.

William Allstetter

It is the late-summer ritual of a growing season that has been particularly profound and nourishing this year, for both my body and my spirit. I have enjoyed gardening for many years. I love dropping seeds into the soil, then waiting and watching, until I get a charge of excitement from the first green shoots emerging from the dark brown soil. I revel in the joyful blooming of flowers and the satisfying of harvest of homegrown food. But this year, gardening has been especially valuable in our fearful season of pandemic, dispiriting and chaotic political news, and the troubled decline of a friend’s health.

During those first frightening weeks of the pandemic, when we knew so little about the virus and how to stop it, we fell back on passive medieval strategies of isolation and quarantine. Gardening offered positive, purposeful activity and escape from fearful conversations and constant consumption of dread-filled news. For a few minutes or hours each day, I could escape the electric glow of screens to venture outside, dig in the ground, nurture young seedlings and focus completely on a peaceful, productive endeavor.


The garden was not disrupted by the pandemic. In fact, it benefited from the additional hours I had to tend it. The bindweed and dandelions were no match for my weeding wand. Turned and loosened soil encourage roots to grow strong and deep. Added compost supplied valuable nutrients to fuel the summer growth. The sun shone strong on my head and shoulders and back. The heavy lifting and yoga-like positions of weeding and planting strengthened my body and cleared my mind. A meditation of sorts.

As the initial lockdowns eased, we began to host a few friends in socially distanced back-yard gatherings. The rich green lawn, the beautiful blue wisteria and the exuberant explosion of pink, blue and white larkspur created our own secret garden where we could absorb the beauty of nature while savoring long awaited in-person interactions with friends.

Now, the summer is winding down. The pinks and blues of the spring’s flowers have given way to the tawny tassels of flowering grasses and the yellow abundance of black-eyed Susans. The tomatoes are ripening, the peppers grow long, and the basil is ready for pesto.

My faithful friends, the plants and trees and vines in the garden, offer unconditional companionship. They don’t criticize, cancel or threaten. They stand and grow. Quietly. Some fail to thrive as I had hoped or fall victim to insects and disease. But they are always there, silent, steadfast companions undaunted by the chaos swirling around us, reminding us we and the nature around us are resilient, and that the agitation of our daily dramas can be soothed by time spent in the garden.

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After more than three decades’ experience in journalism, science writing, editing, book publishing, corporate communications and video production, William is happy to be freelancing once again about science, skiing or any good story. Twitter: