My best childhood gardening memory is the trays of cherry tomatoes that the bachelor down the street in my Indiana town would leave on the steps for our family. I wasn’t big on going to the ‘plot’ and actually doing a lot of the work. But when I was on my own, I realized that I wanted to grow tomatoes. So I tried — in a tiny pot on a roof in Jersey City (they fried), by a south-facing windown in a balcony-less London apartment (never enough sun or breeze to polinate). When we moved to New Jersey and bought a house, all I wanted was a raised bed for the tomatoes and a few other things.
Since then, we’ ve grown okra, fennel, blue potatoes, rhubarb … and lots and lots of tomatoes (though I still buy some when I’m making chutney). The best de-stresser is to come home from work and play in the yard, even if it’s just digging up dandelions. Keeps me from snacking too!
The other half: His mother says he never planted the fancy tulip bulbs she brought back from Holland, though to be fair, he didn’t have a garden then. And when he proudy pointed out his supermarket ‘tulips,’ she didn’t have the heart to tell him they were irises. (He says it’s not true and notes that he grew herbs in his Putney window box.)
But it must be true about that British gardening gene. Give a Brit a lawn and he will discover gardening. With him, lawn maintenance and flowers win over tomatoes, and he is the one taking the lead on growing plants from seed. Without him, our front beds wouldn’t be properly dug up each time they expand. (I’d be lazy, put newspapers down, cover with mulch and hope for the best.) As for compost … who else would build three bins with wood and proper hardware, then double-shred the oak leaves? The plants all say thanks! (I’ll claim credit for getting buckets of coffee grounds. And we’re both astounded at how the leaves will steam within a day of having the grounds mixed in.)
I’m surprised just how much gardening has grown on us. Every spring, we are delighted to see crocuses and daffodils emerge. We are amazed at how much our plants have grown each year and how few we kill. We know we are lucky to have so much sun. Although our former neighbors told us that asparagus fields filled our yard before the house was built about 40 years ago, our soil seems to make flowers happy. And of course we thank all who have given us plants and advice, beginning with the need to widen that long, two-foot-wide strip (if that!) that passed for the front bed. Along the way, we have learned to split plants with a quick whack of the shovel into the ground and are slowly learning the principles of interesting plant combinations. Last year’s red-hot pokers looked like Tiki torches along the path; this year it will be interesting to see them in bigger clumps. He says we’re just at the tip of the iceberg and maybe in 35 years, we’ll really know what we’re doing. Indeed, creating rooms in a wide-open space remains a daunting task, however, and one that will take much more courage to attempt.