Kids + Teens

Down In the Dirt

I’ve picked the last of the cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, kale and a few other hangers-on, and my garden in Brooklyn finally begins to fall asleep under blankets of leaves and snow. We had a good harvest, though at season’s end I always feel I didn’t spend enough time in the yard.

I’ll miss the early mornings spent picking blueberries and peppers, afternoons watching my orange cat chase robins and flies, and dinners with friends at our picnic table, lit by strings of lights draped on our fence.

As I picked the last fruits and trimmed the last bits of leaves, I took extra notice of the snails, worms, millipedes, and grubs crawling about the dirt, as well as the bees buzzing overhead.

My next book is a follow-up to Over and Under the Snow with author Kate Messner, and I’ll be drawing, sketching, and painting critters of all sorts for Up in The Garden and Down in the Dirt, a tale of roots, insects, bugs, flowers, vegetables, a pair of gardeners, and a season to season journey in the dirt.

This year, we welcomed a swarm of bees—hundreds of them—buzzing about the Blue Fortune, Joe Pye Weed and Echinacea along our fence. It turns out the bees were visitors from a nearby gardener—a man on my block who goes by Mr. Prince. You can read more about his garden in this recent story that I wrote and illustrated for The New Yorker’s Culture Desk.

At 69, Mr. Prince has lot to teach about tending plants, but he mostly talks about his life, his kids, and the changing neighborhood which he has been observing from his garden plot for the last 38 years.

What I most like about having a garden in Brooklyn is that it’s quiet—much more birdsong and far fewer car horns—and deceptively still in a city that is always buzzing and changing. Only after you get your hands in the dirt does a garden seem to pulse with energy. This winter, I’ll roll up my sleeves and prepare to create an imaginary garden and its inhabitants while dreaming about next spring and my own backyard paradise.

Christopher Silas Neal is the illustrator of Over and Under the Snow, Lifetime and the upcoming Up in The Garden and Down in the Dirt.

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