It is time, now, in the glory of mid-summer, to reap the harvest from the garden. The tomatoes are hanging plump and red from the vine, the cukes are sprawling shiny along the edge of the lawn, and the melons­ are fat and getting fatter.

The problem is, that garden is not mine. Mine is the one with plants so wrinkled, withered, and wan that it is less a vegetable garden than a vegetable hospital. With one exception: These patients don't get well.

I have tried gardening time and time and time again. And my thumb has yet to turn green.

Sometimes I water my plants too much. Other times I don't water them enough. I've left them to wither in too much sun. I've left them to freeze in too much shade. I have mixed the wrong soil, added­ the wrong nutrients, put in the wrong mulch.

I have inadequately supported those requiring assistance: My melancholy vines lean into too-thin sticks like drunkards against broken lamp posts. The angry ones slouch over the circular rails of those whattaya call 'em deals that you stick in the ground to hold up stuff that is supposed to grow.

It seems as though I am some sort of sadist, I know, but let me say that the various ways by which garden vegetables perish under my thumb, so to speak, are not intentional.

Oh, come on now, I hear the plant world protest. How can you NOT grow rosemary? It grows out of rocks, for crying out loud.

I know, I know, I know. Not being able to grow rosemary is like not being able to melt ice cream. It's impossible.

That's what everybody says. And by everybody, I mean everybody - the smart, the stupid, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the fat, the skinny, the old, the young, the friend, the stranger, the everybody I have ever met in my entire life.

Yet in my hands, rosemary loses its needles like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

If vegetables, herbs, and the occasional fruit were to ever convene a trial against me, the charge would be clear: crimes against nature.

And I would plead not guilty. For my acts are not premeditated.

Indeed, I love vegetables. True, I love to eat them. But that is their purpose in life, and they know that.

I think I love them most when they are sautéed. Or maybe boiled. No, baked. Deep-fried? Grilled!

I love them with butter. I especially love them with a drizzle of olive oil. I love them in a cold soup with a whole lot of other vegetables, like gazpacho, or by themselves, like corn on the cob. I love them wilted and I love them firm. But mostly this time of year, I love them fresh from the garden.

Which is why it is good to have friends with gardens. I get all the benefits and none of the dirt on my pants. Lou should be stopping by any day now with some peppers, Kathy with some tomatoes.

And what did I have to do? Nothing. Just admire their handiwork and be jealous. I am good at that. I go to their houses and walk around to their backyards and I gaze upon gorgeous rows of healthy, happy vegetables growing true and strong up trellises and in clean dark-soil corridors, and I am good at saying, “Man, that is beautiful. How do you do it?”

But I am not quite good enough at it. Because I am not content to be jealous. I covet.

So, year after year after painful year, I try again to grow my own. Who knows? Maybe this year I will have what everybody says is so easy to obtain.

Or maybe I’ll just wait till Lou or Kathy comes by — and have a greased frying pan at the ready.

Ahhh … summertime. The livin’ is easy. That is, if you don’t stress about how your garden grows.