Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bindweed and Broccoli: Growing Like Crazy

This Spring southeast Nebraska has had adequate rainfall which means vegetables, flowers, herbs, and weeds are growing well. I learned to garden from my grandfather and my mother. Mom began with a yard of clay and celebrated anything that would grow. One year, she allowed summer squash to grow up a hedge of lilacs. She loved bright clematis vines and red zinnias. Vegetables from my grandfather's garden were plentiful and near perfect. Even on the hottest days, he donned his battered straw hat and carefully tended rows of beans, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. I can still remember his summer smell of dust, sweat, and sun. When he finished working, he sat down in an old metal lawn chair which he placed in the shade of a big elm. My grandmother never understood why he spent so much time in that chair. She used to say, "I don't understand it. He just sits there." Now I wonder if he thought about his mother who loved to grow hollyhocks and vegetables.

Even though I wasn't able to plant tomatoes and basil until early June, they are thriving. My youngest grandson brought me three leftover broccoli plants from his garden which did fairly well for awhile. This week, since I prefer not to use chemicals, I pulled the broccoli out. The leaves, although quite good sized, were full of  jagged holes and I didn't want nearby cucumbers to become infested. Cucumbers, fresh and pickled, are a highlight of my summers.

Herbs, including oregano, lavender, sage, chives, and parsley are also growing well. A new oregano plant has produced large leaves and is an improvement on the older plant which was more stem than leaves. Since the herbs are planted in a raised bed near the house, they are protected from the wind. I can dash down the deck steps to gather a few fresh sprigs for cooking. The bed is easy to weed when I have a few minutes in the evening.

Spring tilling and summer hoeing keeps weeds down in the tomato patch and raised the bed. However, the large perennial bed is another story. Between the rain, work, and personal obligations, I cleaned out only a small portion this Spring. Prolific larkspur and sweet peas battle bindweed for survival. A similar weedy vine has taken over the trellis meant for the sweet peas. Although I made a space for volunteer strawberry plants, nut sedge has popped up all around them. Now most of the strawberry plants look as if they have some sort of blight. Two volunteer trees are growing at the back of the bed. Usually, I chop them off at ground level but the tall thick larkspur tied together with bindweed makes it hard to get to the trees. In short, the bed has gone wild. I'm pretty sure neither my grandfather nor his mother ever had a flower bed that was such a mess.

Yesterday after I pulled several buckets of bindweed and cleared only a small space, I concluded maintaining the bed is no longer fun or satisfying. Come early autumn, I'm pulling it all out, reducing the size significantly and changing the shape so maintenance is easier.  

Just as I finished cleaning up, my grandson and daughter arrived with warm cinnamon rolls from a local bakery. Sitting on the deck in dappled shade with them was much more pleasant than pulling bindweed. As my daughter and I talked about mulch and ground cover in flower beds, my grandson pushed a monster truck toward me. Then he joined our garden conversation by telling me, "my broccoli is growing like crazy." I love the thought of this almost three year old and his parents carrying on the gardening tradition in our family.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Multiple Perspectives

I regularly walk a route around my neighborhood, walking cul de sacs, up and down a hill, and then retracing some of the route to lengthen it to 2.75 miles. After late snows, plentiful rains, and crackling thunderstorms, my neighborhood is lush and green. This morning, storm clouds threatened rain so I shortened the route by walking some blocks in the reverse direction.  

Walking the opposite direction, I caught a glimpse of a sweet backyard vegetable garden I'd never seen before. A row of lettuce and another of onions grew in front of tomato plants. A few yellow flowers lined a small fence designed to keep critters away from vegetables. In another yard, I saw a color combination in a planter that would translate into a colorful quilt. Yellow and lavender petunias with their green foliage cascaded from the planters fitted to a front porch railing. Usually I watch the southwestern sky for interesting colors but today I watched clouds clear from the eastern sky. While doing so, I noticed a large bird I dismissed as yet another common crow. As she circled the neighborhood, I saw thin long legs stretched out behind the large flapping wings which identified the bird as a Great Blue Heron.  I also remembered a morning in August when early haze and high humidity made spider webs, usually invisible, appear to hang like ragged lace all over the neighborhood. These observations and thoughts keep me walking.
Truth and beauty are found in multiple perspectives. In addition, different perspectives create a richer notion of what I have in common with others. For example, my great grandmother loved to garden.  My aunt told me Charlotte had a beautiful garden until the day she died in August 1940. While I garden haphazardly, I prefer spending time with knitting and quilting. Below is the baby girl sweater which is ready for a new grandchild should it be a girl. (See previous posts for the little boy sweater.) Although my hobbies are different than those Charlotte enjoyed, the work of our hands creates beautiful and useful things for our families.

This summer I hope to finish my story about Great Grandmother Charlotte. When I began, I thought of her as a mother of two World War One soldiers. Then, while reading between the lines of my grandfather's letters from France, I began examining her life from other perspectives. I searched for information in family photos, old newspapers, land records, and history of central Nebraska. Differing perspectives helped me get acquainted with her as a woman of her time. I also hope I have crafted a story which comes closer to the truth about her ordinary days.