Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Botanical Wonderland

When I was a little girl, we lived two doors down from an elderly couple named the Zimmermans. (I think. I'll have to check on that with my mom.) They lived on a corner lot, so when we went for family walks around the block, we would pass their backyard and it's beautiful, wonderous, fantastic garden.

I'd never seen anything like it. I'd seen farms, of course, but nothing like this in a backyard. There was no lawn at all in the Zimmermans' back yard; it was entirely vegetable and flower beds, some raised, some not, with gravel-covered paths between. There were little fences around some beds, and stakes and tomato cages in others. And oh, the bees! They were everywhere, buzzing around the entire yard. Why did the bees like this yard so much, I wondered. Why were there so many more here than anywhere else?

It was overwhelming, a riot of green, and of smells, and of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. It wasn't perfectly-groomed like the Chicago Botanical Gardens I had visited many times - this was a working garden, a living garden. It was in all possible ways different from any other yard on the street - it looked different, it smelled entirely different, it even sounded different. I wanted to stop and stare. I wanted to hop the fence and walk on those inviting little paths and see what interested the bees so much.

I didn't, of course.

The Zimmermans were about my grandparent's age, or a little older, so they'd lived through the Great Depression, and I imagine at least one of them probably grew up on a farm. To them, a lawn must have seemed terribly wasteful, all that good land lying fallow when it could be providing a great deal of food. Waste not, want not. They must have enjoyed gardening, to have such a garden and take such good care of it. They used to share the fruits of their garden with the neighborhood - the traditional zucchini and squash that bear more than one person can possibly consume!

In my neighborhood, the children use backyards as shortcuts from one house to another, declaring their dominion over all grassy highways and byways. My home office window faces the backyard, so I often see them dashing through my yard, scaring the rabbits and racing to catch a friend.

The other day a 10-year-old boy was pelting through, as only 10-year-old boys can, when he drew up short to a complete halt. He stared. And stared. He was utterly fascinated by my vegetable garden. He stooped to read the plant markers, to find out what these mysterious plants were in their raised beds in neat rows, with chicken wire protecting some but not others. He inspected the plants closely, hands behind his back. He lifted one foot hesitantly, as if he wanted to walk into the vegetable garden and go examine the plants on the other side -- but he thought the better of it, and stayed on the path. He walked to the back gate slowly, looking back at my garden, before taking off at top-speed again once he had exited.

Has he never seen a garden before? I wondered, amused. What kind of child is so fascinated by vegetables? Has he truly never seen food being grown?

And then I remembered the Zimmermans, whom I hadn't thought of for years, and all at once I was six years old and could smell the fresh earth and sharp greenery of their vegetable garden, hear the buzzing of the bees in their orgy of pollinating ecstacy. I was back on the verge of that mysterious wonderland that called to me so invitingly.

Next time, I hope he steps inside the garden.


Anonymous said...

Love looking at the lettuce growing. Never know when or how to pick it, though, so it just mostly goes to seed. I don't plant it anymore.

Need to find the secret to growing bigger onions. Planting earlier is probably one sugestion.

Thought I was buying two jalapeno plants the other day and as I was walking out, realized they were in 3-packs - so I had six. Of course the one I had planted earlier now looks like it will survive.

I do have a pumpkin on the vine already. I put the watermelon out too early, but they are coming back.

Could use a little advice. Would like to try a sq. foot herb garden. Do herbs reseed themselves well? Do they tend to spread or take over a spot?

Anon E. Mouse

Eyebrows McGee said...

It depends on the herb. Anything in the mint family (including catnip) will spread LIKE CRAZY and become invasive. (We confine those to pots.) Some others will reseed themselves neatly in a gentlemanly fashion; others (especially this far north) you will have to plant every year; they may not have a long enough growing season to seed properly. But we've never had any problem starting any herbs from seed in the early spring, or on the kitchen counter before the last frost; herbs are much less fussy than veggies.

Oh, thyme will also spread, but it's not considered invasive. The county extension or the Peoria Herb Guild could probably give you better advice than I can, particularly since this is only our 3rd herb-growing summer this far north! I still consider myself a novice (and experimenter!); I'm hoping I have the time and opportunity to take the master gardening program through the county extension next year! Then I can be an expert!

We haven't yet tried it, but I'm told "seedsaving" from your own herbs (to plant the next year) is not difficult with most herbs.

My pumpkin has not yet come up. I just added some more seeds in the hopes this bunch won't be a loser. I'm not real sure about my melons either. I think my anise is coming up but I'm not sure what the seedingly are supposed to look like so I can't weed that bed yet. Blergh!

But I was so excited this morning to see that tiny blush of ripening on the pepper!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I adore your little pepper. I have a pair of Roma's that are no where near ripe, but causing jealously amongst the folks who told me I put it in too early (mid-April).
My daughter (age 10 1/2) is responsible for the peas. They aren't really doing all that well, but they are blooming and, to her at least, they are doing GREAT. She is also able to see the difference in potato variety, and can't wait to impress someone with her knowledge.
My other daughter, age 3, goes out to check the garden with me every night. She planted a few marigolds in one corner, so she stops to smell them while I pull a few weeds (I hate *HATE* the morning glories!)
The boys could care less until it is time to dig potatoes. THEN it is cool because:
A: They taste so good.
B: They dug them up themselves.
C: It is like digging up buried treasure.

The cilantro we planted is already going to seed (it seems). I hope my wife will know what to do with it when it comes time to make salsa. (I sure don't)

Anonymous said...

Everythings a-bloomin. The white taters (well, not the reds), the maters, the peppers, the peas and the punkins. Even the 6 carrots (out of two 8' rows) that actually came up are thriving after a good heavy dowsing of the entire garden area with the old garden hose.

There just aren't words to explain the joy I get in watching the things I planted grow. My grandpa was the same way. He'd sit by his little garden shed, drinking his Budweiser, watching the sun set. I check my garden when I get home from work, pull a few weeds, marvel at natures wonders. I get a big kick out of it when one of my kids helps, sees what THEY planted growing, and are excited by that.

Everything should be ripening up nicely just about the week we go on vacation (of course).

Anon E. Mouse