Our garden has always been a tranquil little oasis for me and my husband. Situated on a far corner of the property, it sits to the side of the house and behind a natural privacy screen of fruit trees and stone wall, and an unruly bittersweet vine. It’s too far for an extension cord or Wi-FI to reach, and blessedly unable to pick up cell reception. We have always enjoyed the remote feel, especially in the height of an Island summer, when the urge to hide from the world strikes on a regular basis.
A few years ago, we realized the secluded setting would be ideal to experiment with cannabis cultivation. Massachusetts had recently legalized possessing and growing marijuana, but just as there are a variety of reasons to use and grow the plants, there are numerous reasons to keep them secure during all phases of the process. Placing them out of view from roads or other public places and behind a fence with a gate that locks aren’t just responsible ideas, they are required by law.
In a few growing seasons, we cultivated not only a handful of nicely producing plants, but we found a community of growers who loved to share their experience and bounty. Especially in the spring of 2020, when COVID gave us the gift of extra time and the curse of looking for ways to help our ever-worsening anxiety, it seemed everyone was growing cannabis — friends from work, older family members, even my husband’s clients would show off their gardens when he stopped by. Baked goods were dropped off and recipes exchanged.
Early that summer we found ourselves in possession of seeds from a few silly-sounding varieties — ‘Chronic Mass,’ ‘Purple Kush,’ ‘Zkittlez’ — and decided to expand our little garden corner to a few rows (by law we are allowed 12 plants). Why not keep track of all the different strains, and set ourselves up for the winter? We envisioned handing out gift baskets of buds and cookies and tinctures during holiday time, spreading the joy to friends and family.
We started the seeds in plastic trays under lights to give them a head start in the damp and chilly Island springtime, and then transplanted them behind our new locking gate in the garden, with wooden stakes identifying the strain of each plant. We battled aphids and borer beetles, and removed male plants to prevent pollination. While typically a good thing in gardening, when female cannabis plants are pollinated, it reduces the production and potency of the flower. We watered and weeded and pruned and admired the plants as they grew taller and fatter under our care, the sticky, purple-tinged flowers, with little hairs growing redder as the season went on, letting us know that harvest time was near.
As fall approached, we started to prepare our drying room, so we could hang the branches to let them dry. Again we made labels to keep track of the strains, so we could tell the ‘Skunkasaurus’ from the ‘Grandaddy Purple.’ We brainstormed ideas for quantifying the effects and potency upon sampling, and researched extraction techniques for oils and butter.
Then one September morning, while out on an early morning dog walk, I got a cryptic text from my husband about reporting that the plants were “gone.” He didn’t respond to my request for clarification, and I couldn’t imagine what he might mean. Disease? Pests? Had the sheep jumped the fences and had a party? By the time I got home, there was a police cruiser parked out front and an officer standing in the garden with him, surveying the ruined fence and gaping hole where our proud cannabis forest stood just the day before. We had been robbed.
There is a certain level of irony in calling the cops when someone steals your weed that wasn’t lost on me. But there the kind officer was, taking a statement and looking for any evidence left behind, but mostly just listening. He offered support, and eventually an admission that there was very little chance this person would be caught, and even less that we’d get our plants back. We knew that, of course. Whenever you invest time and energy in an outdoor garden, you’re taking a risk that Mother Nature can take it away. We know some years are good for tomatoes and some have you giving heads of lettuce away before they bolt and go to waste. But on this little Island in the middle of the ocean, where we make such an effort to take care of each other, it hadn’t occurred to us that someone could take something their neighbor had worked so hard for.
We felt sorry for ourselves for a few days, but then decided to learn from the experience and move on. The fence was repaired and reinforced. And then my very tech-savvy husband did the unspeakable: He dug a trench from the house to the garden, running power and internet to our once technology-free haven, so he could install a variety of gadgets to help him keep an eye on things, and deter unwanted visitors. My husband turned it into a game. Two years later, he’s still adding security features, treating human thieves like another garden pest that needs to be outsmarted. We’re not sure we’ll grow cannabis again, but we don’t want anyone poking around our asparagus bed either. It was a disappointing end to our experiment, but we still learned a lot about growing and protecting a garden. In our enthusiasm for our new project, maybe we were a little eager to connect and share, too liberal with the garden tours. So even though we could livestream a cannabis conference down there, for all the technology installed in our garden, we can still keep some things just between us. We can still sink our toes in the soft soil as we weed the tomatoes, our phones — and our open gardener’s hearts — switched to Do Not Disturb.