Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary...

Today was one of those beautiful spring days that you dream about after you've been snowed in for five days with your children and you've made enough hot chocolate to float the Spanish Armada. The high was in the low 70s with a slight breeze to keep the sun from feeling hot. The cherry trees and Bradford pears are in bloom and the sky was the perfect shade of blue. It couldn't have been prettier. I think I could live this day for 3/4ths of the year, and I'd be happy. Assuming of course the pollen miraculously went away while the flowers were still in bloom. The other days could be one month of temps hot enough to swim, one and half months of glorious fall foliage and half of month for winter where it could snow for one week and keep us snowed in for four days. Um, that would be if I was in charge of the weather, but alas I am not...

Anyway, as I said, today was perfection. It wast the perfect day for selling lemonade with the Girl Scouts at our little town's annual Spring festival. It was the perfect day to walk home from the festival -- even though there are no sidewalks and we were 'afeared' for our lives while crossing the bridge. But most of all, it was the perfect day for gardening.

I don't think I've ever mentioned my relationship with gardening here at The Creek. I came to flower gardening a little late in life compared to some and a little early compared to others. Although I grew up in the South, I did not have a magnolia and gardenia mother. Gardening was not about growing flowers -- it was about growing food. And that was my Daddy's job. The son of a farmer, the man had a penchant for throwing seeds in the ground, tending them and then enjoying the literal fruits of his labor. You need some half-runner and silver queen (that's green beans and the best white corn you've ever tasted for the uninitiated)? My Daddy was your man. When I was a child he kept a garden that put all other gardens to shame. You would have thought we were feeding a small Amish community with the garden we had in our backyard, but that's how Daddy liked it.

*I am using the past tense here, because nowadays my Daddy does not put out a garden, because it might interfere with his retirement and his golf game, never mind that we're in a recession and his poor grandchildren could use some free organic vegetables that had been grown with his tender loving care. Okay, I don't know why I'm going on like this. It's not like either of my parents even knows what a blog is, much less reads it. But maybe one of my cousins will pass along the message.*

One of my earliest memories is digging in the garden in the potato patch. I think I was about three or four years old. It may not be a memory, so much as it is an actual picture I have of my 3-year-old dirt-covered self sitting in the dirt digging up spuds. Another fond memory I have is of my mother cooking dinner and asking me to go get the potatoes. And she didn't mean out of the pantry. She meant out of the ground. So, I would dutifully run down our backyard to the very bottom of our garden, grab a potato plant with my hand and pull. Then I'd go hose them off and take them inside to Mom. My favorite were new potatoes, the ones that were small and round and perfect. We also grew black-eyed peas, okra, tomatoes, corn, strawberries, squash, green beans and few melons every now and again. And by "we" I really mean, my Daddy. Of course my brother and I did string up a few beans, hoe a few weeds and water a few rows, but the real work was all Daddy.

Now come pickin' time, it was a whole other ballgame. I have picked, strung, and snapped green beans until I thought my fingers would bleed and I have hulled bowl after merciless bowl of black-eyed peas. A year or two ago we were at our friends' house and while they were fixing dinner, the husband grabbed the corn and started shucking it over the kitchen sink. He laughed and said I'd probably never shucked corn. I let him know real quick that I'd shucked corn for dinner just about every summer night of my childhood. And there were even some nights were the only thing we'd eat would be corn. Mmmm, I can just taste that Silver Queen now.

My point (I do usually get around to those sooner or later, don't I?) is that I grew up thinking vegetable gardens were necessary, and flower gardens were not. Flowers are pretty to look at and all, but they've never put food on the table, now have they?

Fast forward to my blissful mid-twenties or "the BC years" as I like to call them, Before Children, and I got bit by the flower garden bug. As soon as we moved into our little cracker box of a first house in a shady historic area of town, I just had to plant flowers. The most beautiful blue hydrangea bush you have ever seen grew right beside the front porch stairs. One look at that baby and I knew flowers were what I wanted, what my little house and my soul needed. I immersed myself in gardening like any good, er obsessive, student would.

I read everything there was to read about gardening in the shade. You see, we had dappled shade, light shade and deep shade to work with, so I scrounged up every shade plant known to grow in the Mid-South region. The Southern Living Gardening book became my flower bible. I knew every plant by its common name, as well as its Latin name. Even my mother-in-law, a flower gardener from way back, was impressed with my knowledge. She added to my collections and gave me much needed advice. Mr. Engineer and I planted with abandon. We went mostly for perennials, but threw in some annuals for color as well. We had heated debates over the size and shape of flower beds. He wanted 90 degree angles; I wanted meandering curves. We compromised with precise curves at exact intervals. Life was good. Life in our backyard and by the front porch was beautiful. Then something more beautiful than any flower I'd ever known came along, my first baby.

And then I gave up gardening. My husband tended what we'd already established and my mother-in-law continued to bring transplanted flowers from her garden and take transplants from my garden, but I would just point and make suggestions while blissfully holding my sweet baby boy. Fast-forward almost two years and we moved to a new town that was just perfect, except our house was in full sun. Not just sun, but blazing sun, Tennessee in August and not a piece of shade to be found except in the wood line behind our house sun. When Springtime rolled around and we were ready to plant, I had a 2 1/2 year old and was ready to pop with our next child, and I didn't know Jack Sprat about gardening in the sun.

All those years I had coveted a plot of ground to put some showy full-sun flowers in were coming back to haunt me. And with a brain so pregnant that all it could think about was, "I'm pregnant. How am I going to take care of two babies? I'm really huge. Is that ice cream mint chocolate chip, yummy. I'm so swollen. How many more weeks can I do this!?!" planting flowers was the least of my worries. Fast forward seven more years and another child to boot, and you can probably guess that I'm still not versed in growing flowers in the sun.

Yes, we've added a couple of perennial beds and changed some things in the front bed, but we still aren't the experts we once were. Oh, Mr. Engineer would probably beg to differ, and he'd be right. I'm not the expert I used to be, and that's okay with me, sort of. I still love watching things grow, I just don't love planning it and executing it and taking care of it as much as I used to. Maybe I'm just too busy growing and "training up" other, more important things.

So nowadays when I say "we" were gardening today, what I really mean is I was pointing at places where Mr. Engineer could put the daylillies he had just divided, and he was digging holes. We also planned an oak leaf hydrangea garden in the back where Mr. Engineer could plant the offshoots he'd just dug up from the side bed. There was no major planning session, no Round-Upping of the soil and waiting a couple weeks, just him asking, "Where you want me to put 'em? How about here and here?" And me saying, "That's good, and maybe one over here?"

We've come a long way from our master-planning days. Will the hydrangea transplants make it in the rocky soil among the weed? Who knows? And who really cares? They were free, they were there, and we had the time so we planted them. Will Mr. Engineer dig out the weeds and mulch it when he gets a chance? You can bet on it. Will we turn that rocky ugly part of our yard into a beautiful garden like we've talked about for the last seven years? I don't know, but we did take a babystep in that direction today.

So yes, "we" did garden today, and for now I really like the way "we" did it. It left me free to run in the house and check on the eggs I was boiling to make tuna salad for lunch, and to answer my 3-year-old's questions and to wander back out and point some more. My nails aren't traumatized like they were 10 years ago, and I only miss playing in the dirt a little. But every now and then I do have to rip a dandelion out of the flower beds. It's an old habit that's hard to break. And I'm sure Mr. Engineer is grateful, right? He can't do it all around here, now can he?

No comments:

Post a Comment