In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
July, 2005
Regional Report

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Corn grows fast and tall like the proverbial beanstalk, making it a good choice for a family garden with young pickers.

Garden Memories in the Making

When I think back to gardening as a child, I remember helping my dad set out tomato transplants. He had a tiny vegetable plot at the time, so he only set out about half a dozen plants, three for me and three for my sister. Together we added a scoop of homemade compost to each planting hole, patted the soil against the root ball and carefully watered each plant. We sprinkled some fertilizer out of a coffee can. After that we'd sit up in the nearby willow tree and admire the plants.

"Those are our tomatoes!"

Then one day, all of a sudden, we began having lots of tomatoes every night for supper. How is it that kid memory just skips right ahead to the good stuff!

I remember picking fresh mint for garnishing glasses of iced tea and lemonade, these enjoyed on the shady, screened porch on a hot afternoon. All the grown-ups just exclaimed over how a generous sprig of mint made a nice swizzle stick for your drink! It always smelled so fresh, even better than mint-flavored chewing gum! Sometimes we'd just pick a little mint leaf here and there and munch on it while we played outside, share it with our friends if they were brave enough to try it. I used to garnish my play mudpies with mint, rose hips, or even (the poisonous) yew berries, but luckily I knew better than to eat those.

Another clear gardening memory is of the compost heaps hidden behind a section of white clapboard fence (complete with a thorny old rambler rose trained on it) in the far back corner of the yard. We had a leaf sweeper and put all the autumn leaves behind the fence. I loved hiding in the leaf sweeper. Then it was so exciting to visit a nearby dairy farm and ask to take home some fresh, smelly cow manure for the compost. I think we brought it home in a big trash can in the open trunk of the car. I remember all the neighbors were quite astounded to hear about it. Maybe composting wasn't such a common thing back in the sixties' suburbia.

The piles of compost were useful in other ways besides for planting tomatoes. When we needed worms for fishing, we dug up big ones from the bottom of the older heap. And the heaps were perfect for playing king of the hill. Sometimes we'd shovel the half-finished compost through a big sieve to separate out the bigger chunks. That seemed more like work, but by then the compost didn't smell of cow manure any more; it smelled clean and it had turned fluffy; you could spread your fingers through it.

I remember planting crocuses in the fall. In the spring we'd pick glorious, golden yellow daffodils to take to my teacher at school, pussy willow and forsythia, too. I remember coming home from kindergarden one day and being welcomed by the most amazing, red flowers just covering the wall next to the front door; they had opened all at once, like magic. Right away I ran inside yelling about all the big, red flowers! I didn't know they were called roses.

I still remember the day I realized the rock garden was not literally a garden of rocks but had flowers in it beside the rocks I liked to hop and leap-frog over. In mid-jump I suddenly saw blooms! Oops, I missed.

It wasn't until I was in college that a horticulture student patiently explained to me that the pink trees I liked so much were redbuds, and that different flowering trees needed different growing conditions, and that there were even different varieties of, say, flowering cherries. So complicated! I hadn't even realized that horticulture existed as a field of study. And all along I had just thought the trees were so pretty, never suspecting there was more to it than that, or how fascinating it would become.

The magic of it all is what I remember best -- appreciating and celebrating the seemingly magical results. And delighting in the hands-on chores, the activities that became special events to look forward to rather than drudgework to be dreaded. No lectures or lessons or weeding or hoeing, just enjoying, indulging in, and sharing the fruits of our labors. I hope that is a joy and excitement we can pass along to younger gardeners and still hold onto ourselves.


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