Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

Some days, she looked out across the garden and wondered where to start.


That is me. I used to be quite a gardener. I am the daughter of a gardener. When I was young, my mother used to have me out there with her and I got to know the names of all the plants. Those were also the days when plants went by their Latin names as well as their English name. My mother told me what was good about each flower and  how to deadhead them. One of my earliest jobs was deadheading. I can still recall the scent/odor of marigolds and zinnias when I popped the spent flower off. Later, I also had the task  or was it a punishment? of taking all the Japanese beetles off the rosebushes and plunking them into a jar of kerosene. Hot, yucky and smelly work. I hated it.

But, once I had my own home, albeit one leased by the US government not owned by me, I was ready to garden. My first garden was in northern England, a land of temperate weather and  plentiful rain! I also learned that my soil was really rich because the houses had been built over land that had once been a pig farm. Rich, rich soil was what I had. From British magazines and books, I learned how to turn the soil, double dig, and learn what would grow in a climate so different from my native Maryland. The mainstays of summer, the zinnias and the marigolds, the portulacas were no longer part of my vocabulary. The roses that my mother fought to grow, despite those wretched Japanese beetles, flourished. England was my land of roses. I put them in and watched them thrive. I also never had to have the Peace rose which I had never liked. I could have the roses bred for looks and fragrance. I learned, despite my misgivings, to prune those roses nearly to the ground so they would come back the next spring happy and healthy. (I will admit it took one 'butchering' by my xh to convince me of that kind of pruning. There were a lot of tears and a lot of yelling. I was wrong.)

England also gave me wallflowers, primroses, lupins, etc.  The UK also gave me my first taste of homegrown new potatoes. I was stunned by the taste since I've never been a great fan of potatoes. But pulling the plant up, stripping off the ones of the right size, and then after replanting….having amazingly delicious little knobs of goodness to eat, dressed in butter of course.

I had seven years of good gardening in Yorkshire, and felt I really had learned the craft that my mother had nurtured in me as a child. Then I moved to Bangkok. Roses? no way. Spring bulbs and tender perennials? not likely. But there were orchids, orchids that were $2 a plant and hung from every tree and branch in my garden. And what kind of trees did I have? Rubber trees that were not potted plants but trees that grew two stories high. Mango trees that had to be seriously guarded from 'mango thieves' who would try and snatch the precious fruit. There were banana 'trees' that our maid's husband cut down. Once again, I did not know the reality of a plant. A banana plant cut down today will grow back by tomorrow - well it will in in a tropical climate! I also learned that all bananas are meant for human consumption. I learned about 'bird bananas' - small bananas filled with seed, not fruit. Next time you eat a banana, look at those tiny black spots in the center of the fruit. Imagine them as seeds filling the peel instead of fruit!

More moves and less gardening because I either lived in an apartment, or in a desert. I did have one period of time when I 'managed' my gardener who maintained a vegetable garden for us. He came with the house, was excellent except for his preference for DDT. There was no explaining to a man in east Africa that this spray that killed bugs was harmful to us too. Long term heath concerns were not clear to a person who faced hunger when the rains didn't come. What could I do? Some of my fellow Americans still believed that you could wash the DDT off. Fortunately, I had only two years of being a stern taskmaster regarding DDT.

Fast forward to the present. My dh and I are able to travel a good bit. Is the garden happy? not at all. Every gardener knows that there are seasonal windows that if missed put you behind for the whole year. Miss putting the garden 'to bed' in the early winter, and you'll regret it as you face the weeds in spring. Don't keep an eagle eye on the bamboo and you and your saw will get up close and personal for a lot longer than you like. So that is why I sometimes look like the woman in the picture. Wishing I had been home for that bamboo window. Wondering if I can ever get the weeds and the couch grass out of the driveway border. I'm no longer a real gardener. I'm a controller. I do my best to keep nature in check but right now nature is winning. "Now she wonders when she can quit". Anyone have an answer for me???

1 comment:

Kristina said...

That was very lovely.

-Kristina K.
Urban Farm Wife

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