Thursday, July 24

At Grandmother's House

When I was eight, my father's mother passed on. Her name was Daisy Glenda and she had been a tobacco farmer's daughter up in Georgia. She met my grandfather when they were both teenagers and travelled south to Florida where they found work digging up oysters in the Nassau River. They settled in the area and built their house, home, and business on A1A. My grandfather was a hulking legend in our family, a mechanic who once saved his son by actually catching a car before it fell on him.

Sadly, I never knew him as he and my other grandfather both died the shortly before I made my way into this world. I did have my grandmother though for eight precious years. My grandmother was a hardy woman, the mother of five sons and chain smoker of Marlboro Reds. Everything in her house was tinted brown from her smoking, giving all my memories a very distinct haze. To cover up the cigarette smell, my grandmother laid bowls of mothballs around the house which, of course, just made the house smell like mothballs and cigarettes. She was a true Southerner and kept a skillet of bacon grease at the ready. Everything had meat in it, usually floating alongside clouds of milky lard. My cousin Amanda and I spent a lot of time at her house, drawing up plans for our horse farm and chasing never-aging kittens around the backyard that were named things like Smokey or Blackie. We spent hours in our grandmother's backyard, climbing the great magnolia tree or making bridges across the little stream at the back. Our grandmother would call us in for lunch and we would find our food, usually a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, laid out on a towel in front of the television. We would lay on our stomachs and drink cola through a straw as the giant hourglass appeared on the screen, the signal that it was time to be quiet. Our grandmother would sit rapt in her blue and green plaid easy chair as the doctors and rich housewives and sinister ex-boyfriends all plotted against each other. When the program was finished, she would turn off the television, declare the rest of the shows to be garbage, then shoo us out the backdoor again. There we would stay until called in again for dinner.

My grandmother was a gruff woman, almost handsome but not anything approaching pretty. She wore pants most of the time and if she did put on a dress, she still looked like she was wearing pants.
She was an avid gardener. Her yard was full of gardenias and hydrangeas and shrimp plants and azaleas and so many more than I can remember. Her yard was lush and endless, full of grasshopper and honeybees and shadowy places to hide. As a small child it was my whole world.

After she died the land was sold. At first the new owners just parked their landscaping vehicles on it and the yard was desolate. Then they expanded the business, first to mulch and landscaping supplies and now to plants. Since returning, I have sped past regularly but never stopped until today.

The blue and white house my grandparents built and raised sons and grandchildren in remains in tact. Behind it still are the two little sheds and the garage that once housed my grandmother's Grand Marque (a car I thought was by rights my grandmother's car from the name alone as she was called Grandma Key). Many of the trees are still there, giant as they ever were. And amidst these landmarks was a beautiful spread of potted plants, model ponds, gravel, and many more plants.

There is something so right and just about seeing my dearly departed grandmother's yard again full of gardenias and hydrangeas and shrimp plants and azaleas and so many more plants than I can remember. And to see my children run around where I used to play, on the very bricks that she put into the earth, well, I can only hope my grandmother can see that as well.

Wednesday, July 16

Sabbatical Garden

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.                             
-Marcus Tullius Cicero
I have decided to reframe this past year and have declared it to have actually been an unexpected sabbatical. And because every sabbatical needs a purposeful project, I believe that we can claim our vegetable garden as such. It was and continues to be an experiment in self-sufficiency, botany, chemistry, and even perhaps spirituality (if you count singing to your plants a form of prayer, as I do). 
This morning I was looking at the scene below and felt a surge of pride at our little vegetable patch. Our garden has been the manifestation of the one word we decided to work on for this year: tenacity. We have learned that just because something looks like a withered brown stick or a piece of wet tissue paper does not mean it is dead. In fact, patience and love do triumph in the end. This may seem commonsense to my wise readers but for me who is always ready to jump instead of to sit still, it has been a very valuable lesson to glean from my sabbatical.
Anyway, without further ado, let me show you around our garden, as it is now in mid-July. 

We chose the backyard instead of the original garden space in the front of the property because:  
 a. it's easier to keep an eye on the kids and b. it's rather gorgeous.
White and yellow Italian strawberries, grown from seed. It took them forever to get beyond the little sprout stage but here they are, looking rather lush.

Our okra forest.

Sorry for the blurriness. We have two types: Alabama red (seen here) and Star of David.

An okra blossom. I did not know this until I grew okra but essentially the okra is the blossom, curled up. Something quite lovely about that besides for being such a delicious vegetable. 

Eggplant patch. 
Edirne striped eggplant. 

Asian eggplant.


Moon and stars watermelon. 

Tomato forest. About 50 plants with a mixture of black plum and purple Cherokee. We are harvesting at least a quart of tomatoes everyday now.

Pepper patch.

Chocolate bell peppers. They will turn a purplish brown and be rather sweet.

Wenk's yellow hot pepper. Mildly hot. 

Italian cowpeas. They are finally getting the hang of the trellis. 

Japanese climbing cucumber. Currently the caterpillars are feasting on this luscious vine but it is a determined plant.

Colette's sesame plants. We actually have a row of these at the back of the garden that are still only a tenth of this size. Colette planted these when she was helping in the garden and did her part to water them everyday. That girl has quite the green thumb, ne?

Okay, so it is hard to see the veggies for the weeds here but this is our green onion patch. It is quite prolific despite the weeds and has been our source of negi goodness for a few months now.

The fields of greens. Well, this was our greens patch, kale, mizuna, rainbow chard, and collards. Until June we were eating salads with every meal but they could not survive the 97 degree days. The collards are actually still trucking and there are some experimental edamae and shallots buried in there.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. -A.A. Milne
Since we have sandy soil, we found that most of the weeds are helping the garden. They also attract pollinators so frankly, I am fond of the weeds. Even the stinging nettles that I despised as a barefoot child are welcomed in our garden.