Sunday, March 30, 2008

Growing Things

The summer that my mom died I grew a beautiful garden. We were living in a rental house in Davis, CA that had totally crap soil, a deep, Central Valley clay layer. After killing a number of sunflowers and other hard to kill plants in that crappy soil, my summer of death memorial garden focused on many, many glazed pots full of various flowering plants. We had a small concrete patio and I filled it with all sorts of beautiful perennial flowers - jasmine, roses, poppies, anything colorful and bright. I also grew tomatoes, peppers, and basil in clay pots that I set in kiddie pools so I wouldn't have to water them every day. I spent many afternoons and evenings out on the back patio drinking tea and watering my plants. I constantly added to the garden, stopping at Ace Hardware on the way home from school on my bike and filling the front basket and two rear baskets with plants, pots, and potting soil.

Gardening was a way of remembering my mom. She was a wonderful gardener. In the 1970s when most of the families in Pullman, Washington (and small towns everywhere) were eating salads of iceberg lettuce and crappy greenhouse tomatoes, my mom was growing rocket (arugula to you yuppies), lemon cucumbers, pear tomatoes, green arrow peas, raspberries, corn, Jerusalem artichokes, zucchinis, basil, mint, cilantro, basil, tomatoes, strawberries, and so much more in her three separate garden plots. She had a garden in our backyard, a raspberry patch in the side yard, and in the vacant lot across the street she had gotten permission from the elderly neighbor lady who owned it to grow a whole other garden. My dad helped out some but it was mainly my mother's garden. My brother and I didn't do much in the garden and I don't have too many memories of actually gardening with her. We occasionally picked weeds out of the corn patch for a penny a weed. We complained when we had pesto for the third night in a week during basil season, when she disguised excess zucchini in various forms like pasta sauce and zucchini chocolate cake, and when she made us deliver baskets of excess vegetables to all of our neighbors. I think the garden was a refuge for her, in part, from us when we were too loud or obnoxious or fighting too much (which was pretty often).

Mom would come home from work, put on her faded and patched blue jean overalls and her tennis shoes, and head out into the garden to pull weeds or put down mulch. Growing my own garden felt like getting in touch with a private side of her, her garden self. Growing my own garden reminded me of all the different ways that she cared for us, including growing all of these healthy fruits and vegetables for us to eat all spring and summer.

Now I am gardening again. This time for my own daughters. Lucy loves to pick things, rocks, flowers, palm fruits, seeds. She gathers as many as she can, cramming them in pockets, into bags, and picking up more and more until they spill out of her hands. So now I am growing things that she likes to eat and can pick herself - tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, eggplant, strawberries and carrots. Mitch built us a small raised bed in our only sunny spot right in front of the house next to the driveway. He painted the 4x 6's a beautiful shade of blue.

My current garden is inspired by a combination of square foot gardening and the latest issue of sunset magazine. In true Christy fashion it is a hodge-podge of various ideas and doesn't really stay true to either of these models. I used the soil mix of square foot gardening (one third peat moss, one third vermiculite, and one third compost) and also their grid pattern (one square foot sections). But instead of planting a single species per section (too homogeneous, not attractive enough), I mixed up the species in each box. My own research in restoration plantings indicates that plants do better when they are planted in mixed species groups (also a common idea in a lot of permaculture gardens). We'll see how it works here. The sunset raised bed garden is beautiful and I used many of the same species. However I didn't plant zucchini or other squashes (we're not big fans of squash) nor green beans because we don't have the climbing space.

Right now I'm fighting off snails and earwigs that are eating all my basil, cucumber seedlings, and sunflowers. Mitch put a strip of copper on the outside of the bed to keep out snails and I put out cans of water with tunafish oil trap earwigs. I feel bad about killing the earwigs since they are only trying to make a living but I can't have them decimating my garden before it even gets started!! Once the plants get a little bigger I will let them have their snack.

In this year's garden, in remembrance of my mom's gardens, I also planted a lot of spicy smelling marigolds. I hear they are also supposed to repel bugs. I hope Lucy enjoys this garden as much as I enjoyed my mom's.

Marigolds and insect-damaged cucumbers in my new garden.

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