Tag Archives: Gardens

A PLACE OF ORDER

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When my family returned from our spring break travels, the house became a place of catch-up and chaos. Hampers of dirty clothes lined up outside the laundry room like planes ready for take-off. The pots and pans we used to cook our Easter meal were stacked in the sink because someone needed to unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher to replace them with the dirty ones. Piles of mail needed to be opened, and every room I entered contained small bursts of clutter none of us wanted to tackle.

While the kids retreated to finish their last-minute homework, I planned to visit the one spot that always feels in order — the community garden.

After running errands the next day, I scooted over to see the empty patch of tilled dirt prepared for us garden-renters, who will be moving into our spaces soon. A local farmer recently plowed the field. He volunteers to do this for us each year, which is greatly appreciated. In addition, while my family was out of town and celebrating spring break, several fellow gardeners turned the precise rectangle of dirt into a grid of garden plots, each marked by corner stakes and numbers. The perfect lines, measured equally with walking paths in between, radiated a sense of order and a peaceful place to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.

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I found one gardener already putting up his fence. He also gave me a tour of some of the improvements recently made near the compost bin behind the plots. The area along a tree line, which in previous years was overgrown, has been mowed and carpeted with a layer of mulch. I used to dread walking my buckets of debris to the compost bin. I worried that snakes might be hiding in the tall grass. My kids made fun of me because I chanted, “Go away snakes,” with every step.

“Mom, that’s not going to do anything,” my oldest son once said as he helped me carry the garden trash to the back of the gardens. He was right, but saying the words made me feel better.

Now that the area has been cleaned up, which is another act of kindness much appreciated, any snakes lurking nearby now must look out for me. A patch of mint has a presence along one edge of the space. In addition, herbs have been planted on each side of the pathway leading to the compost bin. Gardeners can pass by fragrant patches of rosemary, oregano and other familiar useful plants as they clean up their space. The improved site adds more order and beauty to the gardens.

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I returned down the path and back through the dirt gardens to my car knowing that slowly, the grid of earth will be outlined with more fences over the next few weeks. The Green Thumbs plan to join the mapped-out grid with our green and orange fencing on the third weekend in April. As gardeners begin to plant their crops in rows and perhaps patches, more straight lines will be added to the grid, enhancing the space with more beauty.

And hopefully, with acts of kindness from my children, I’ll get my house in relaxing order, too.

— cawk

 

RENT PAID

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Coming inside from the frigid outdoors and standing in the warm office of the town’s administrative building, my fingers felt so cold last week that they could barely grip an ink pen. The stiffness relaxed as I read the back and front of a community garden contract, paid the fee and signed my name on the dotted line to once again rent two plots with the Green Thumbs.

The agreement’s pledge was clear. We will take care of our spot and respect our fellow gardeners, their tools and crops.

The oath was simple to make on a blustery day when the snow-covered ground remained frozen and unplowed. The work of maintaining a garden was still months away as I returned home with plots 6 and 16 secured, and the bitter wind gave no indication that winter was loosening its grip. My daffodils by the front steps were short green stalks too cold to bloom and standing awkwardly stiff like my fingers.

But almost a week has passed since I paid the garden rent, and spring feels possible. The weather has done a 180-degree turn, warming the neighborhood with highs in the 70s forecasted over the next few days. Yesterday, I carried my lawn chair from its spot in the basement next to the rolled up garden fence and metal posts, and sat in it on my front porch, which overlooks the thawing daffodils. A robin hopped on my front lawn, and joggers waved to me as they passed. Feeling comfortable in my bright pink, long-sleeved turtleneck sweater, I started to read Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, edited by Edwin Morris Betts, for inspiration. A tiny gnat distracted me as it crawled on our third president’s words: “But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

And so are the Green Thumbs.

We rented our first plot in 2013, and immediately faced the problem of deer among our unprotected rows. The animals left behind brazen footprints and ate our broccoli, which probably wouldn’t have survived anyway because we planted it too late in the season. Nonetheless, the invasion was a setback until we added a flimsy fence around our square and forged ahead.

At the beginning of the next gardening season in 2014, we admired with pride our three rows of abundant strawberries planted securely inside our fence. Never had such a beautiful patch of fruit been grown. We dreamed of all the short cakes and pies we would eat. But a week before harvest an unexpected hail storm damaged and broke the healthy plants and their berries. We nurtured the crop as best we could, but the strawberries hardly recovered. I didn’t even freeze one pint for the winter. We were left to wait another year for a satisfying berry harvest.

Last year in 2015, the deer stayed away. The berries bore fruit. And the Green Thumbs planted popcorn, something my youngest son had wanted to do since we started gardening. I was thrilled watching the popcorn grow, until he reminded me that he had gotten braces on his teeth and was not supposed to eat popcorn. We harvested the cobs of corn early because the summer was so dry and decided to cut the cooked popcorn into small pieces so my son could have a taste. We placed the corn, cob and all, in a brown paper bag inside the microwave oven. We could hear the kernels popping and had salt nearby and a stick of butter ready to melt and pour on the white puffs of corn. But the microwave cooked the snack too long. The cob of corn became burnt, black and inedible. And the kitchen smelled terrible.

Despite our minor setbacks in the garden over the years, the Green Thumbs also have had annual successes. We have grown enough lettuce and radishes, tomatoes and peppers, eggplant and onions, beans and carrots, watermelons and cantaloupes, potatoes and squash, and pint after pint of cherry tomatoes to feed our families and share with others.

Each year our planting knowledge and experience grows. We have aged many years at the community garden, but if Jefferson is right, the mysteries of farming will keep us young forever.

–cawk

WINDS STRONG, PLANTS STRONGER

   Visiting the Green Thumb community garden last week, I was totally blown away.

   It wasn’t the growth of the plants that blew me over – none of the seeds have produced any sprouts. It wasn’t the beauty of our spot – the plot is pretty much a boring rectangle of brown dirt at the moment.

    It was the steady 30 mile-per-hour winds that nearly knocked me over as I stood gazing by the fence.

    The pipes of the wind chimes in the nearby tree were flipping noisily and clanging into each other. The swirling dust stung my throat and eyes. And the pie pans we had hung over the line of last year’s strawberries had broken loose. All but two of the silver dishes were scattered and tossed throughout the flat rows of the garden.

   I’ve always considered strawberry plants fragile. But the ones in our garden were already flowering. The dainty white petals that will turn into seeded red berries flopped and fluttered with the wind gusts but didn’t fall apart. The green spinach leaves that are easily snapped off for salad bounced and waved but didn’t cave to the elements. The stick branches of our lone blueberry bush remained sturdy and didn’t curl or break.

   As I stood getting slapped with the cold air, I realized how strong plants have to be to survive the weather and what an amazing job roots do anchoring the growth in the soil.

–cawk

RAIN DANCE

A current conflict in our house centers on rain.

For my sons, rain showers mean no afternoon or evening baseball. So when the weather radar is splotchy with green, they’re standing by the front window studying the conditions. With hope, they wear their mitts, complete with motionless baseballs tucked inside the palms of the leather. Silently, they chant, “Rain, rain go away!” as the gray skies block the sunlight, and the spotty sprinkles start to bounce on the sidewalk.

On the other hand, I’m on the opposite side of the house washing dishes and looking out the kitchen window. As I watch the drops of water bounce off my neighbor’s white fence, my thoughts wander to our community garden down the road. My hopes are for a gentle watering of our precious, young plants.

“Water is good for the grassy parts of the baseball fields,” I remind them when we come together to check the family computer for emails about possible game cancellations.

“Too much water might drown your tomatoes,” they take turns reminding me. “You wouldn’t want that.”

We are all sad when it rains just enough to cancel baseball but not quite enough to reach the thirsty roots in the garden.

It’s a dance that we’ll continue all summer.

–c

BREAKING NEWS

My grandma would have laughed opening up the newspaper and seeing an article about our community garden.

Growing vegetables would hardly be news to her. She grew up surrounded by farms and knew more secrets to successful gardening than I will ever know.

She was on my mind last week when a reporter and photographer from the local press talked to us novice growers and wrote about our plans to produce food.

“It must be a slow news day,” I heard my grandma say many times when I was growing up. It was her way of announcing that the printed “news” wasn’t news to her.

But my grandma, who passed away several years ago, would have read every word of our interview, even though it was about the mundane task of growing vegetables.

I only wish that I had paid attention during my childhood summers when a patch in her backyard was overflowing with beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, and she invited my family over to pick.

I wanted to help my mother as she squatted in the morning humidity with her bowl or basket looking for ripe vegetables and leaving the others to mature.

But I had too many fears – bugs, worms, snakes, getting my hands dirty. Gardening was not for me.

I suppose that’s part of what makes my involvement in the community gardens news. If this granddaughter is growing a garden, it warrants a front page headline.

Our story ran on page 2.

Other gardens make the news. First Lady Michelle Obama wrote “American Grown,” a book about the White House garden.

Her idea to create a patch for growing vegetables originated with some of the same ideas we four families who are sharing the community garden plot are trying to accomplish. We all want to educate ourselves and teach kids about healthy choices and how to grow their own meal ingredients.

I’m sure the presidential garden has luxuries we don’t.

Somehow I can’t imagine a snake, worm or bug getting past the Secret Service. And the White House chef probably doesn’t get permission to fry bacon and pick lettuce and tomatoes to make BLT sandwiches for the first family’s lunch because he can’t find anything to cook in mansion’s pantry, refrigerator or freezer.

When the First Lady’s daughters say, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat.”

She probably doesn’t say, “Check the garden,” which is going to be my response this summer.

Also unlike us community gardeners, Mrs. Obama looks lovely in all of her pictures as she tours the White House garden with her dog Bo or works alongside local school children planting mustard greens.

My friends and I always come out of the garden looking red in the face and sweaty. We wouldn’t think of walking through our dirt rows while wearing white pants, like Mrs. Obama. And my friends probably wouldn’t bring their dogs to see our project either. It’s a small space for heavy-footed, curious pets.

One of the outcomes I fear about our garden is producing too much of one vegetable.

The White House probably serves hundreds of meals a day, so if the staff gathers huge crops of lettuce, the leafy greens won’t go to waste. At our house with only two lettuce eaters, we might have to eat salad morning, noon and night trying to gobble up an abundant harvest before it wilts.

I remember one summer my mother’s tomato plant was so prolific that the red fruit covered her kitchen counter space.

We didn’t need to ask, “What’s for lunch?”

We knew the answer, “A soggy tomato sandwich.”

A platter of tomatoes accompanied supper, too. And if she could find a way to feed us tomatoes at breakfast or snack, she did.

But that’s what us community garden moms and the First Lady are striving for – more fruits and vegetables on everyone’s plate.

As far as I can tell, none of my neighbors are growing a garden this summer. The convenience of the supermarket, farm stands and take-out restaurants trumps the hassles that come with digging, planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering and harvesting.

Most Americans don’t have to grow gardens, but some are doing it anyway — in the cities, in the suburbs and at the White House. And fresh vegetables will be served on a few more plates this summer because of the extra effort.

That probably is news.

–c