As we come into mid-summer, I think of many past summers, especially those spent in childhood. Always there was the garden, sometimes several gardens, that needed thinning, weeding, and watering. My mother spent many hours gardening, and she got me to help with the many chores surrounding this activity. Sometimes I enjoyed it, but many times it was boring and hot. Such was the case when it came time to thin the carrots or weed the flower beds. I think I was most bored if I had to be out there alone, as it was much more enjoyable with Mother there with me.
Grandpa Young had been a farmer most of his adult life. His was a dairy farm, and my mother regaled me with stories of the hard work of dairy-farming in the 1920s and 1930s. Everything at that time had to be done by hand or with the aid of work horses. Whether it was haying or hauling cans of milk to the dairy processing, it was a horse-drawn cart in summer and a sleigh in winter.
Dairy farmers also grew all their own crops of vegetables and fruits, and Grandpa had a fruit orchard. Consequently, my mother learned about gardening, as well as canning and preserving food, from necessity. Many times she told me about working in the kitchen, feeding five brothers and as many hired hands from a wood burning stove. How hot and uncomfortable that must have been. No wonder she fled the Maine farm as soon as she could and went to New York City. She lived with a brother and sister-in-law for a time and found work in a bakery, then had a bank job where she met my father. This was in Brooklyn, where my father’s family had lived for several generations, as did many of my mother’s family.
However, I digress from the story of the gardens. My favorite times in the garden were the times spent watching and helping my grandfather. The family had moved back to Maine by then, and my grandparents were living with us in a three-room apartment in our big old farmhouse in Cumberland. Grandpa had planted, with the help of my brother and step-Dad, a huge strawberry garden. We also had a vegetable garden and one of annual flowers. When Grandpa planted, he did so with much precision. This was due to his personality and training as a marine engineer, a career he enjoyed early in life while in Brooklyn. (He left that profession due to the dirty and dangerous work and having to be away from home for months at a time.) The way he planted a row of seedlings was this: He pounded a wooden stake at each end of the row, perhaps 20 feet, then strung a cotton string by tieing it to each post.
This way he got a straight line – no crooked or zigzag lines for him. He then put in the seedlings at precisely measured intervals. When he was dealing with grubs (pesky worms), he put small caps of black tar paper around the root ball before putting it into the ground, which kept the grubs away. Everything he did was in this kind of careful, precise way. He explained everything to me as he went along and allowed me to “help.” I was about eight years old I suppose; and he taught me the names of the flowers – calendulars, cosmos, and all the other summer annuals. What an experience for a small child.
Today, far away from Brooklyn and rural Maine, I gaze upon my summer garden with great satisfaction. I have a tiny plot of perennials, thanks to the gardening expertise of my daughter, and a container garden of herbs and tomatoes. Spring is not complete without putting something into the ground, thanks to the memories of my youth and the gardening lessons from my parents and grandparents. Even a small container garden is satisfying, and you can grow just about any vegetable you like. I went with the items I use most in cooking and that did not take up much room. Each morning I open the back door and inspect my handiwork – and I am not bored as I was in my youth. Gardening is fun and endlessly interesting, and it provides sustenance even at a small level. More to the point, I get pleasure from the memories of our little farm in Cumberland, Maine.
All the plants were brought from Margie’s garden. She wanted to thin out her plants, so it worked out very well for me. She brought plants that, when in bloom, will give a unified color and look, her design talents showing forth.Left to Right: Blue Salvia; Seedum ‘Autumn Fire’; Iris, some variant of ‘Blue Flag‘; Stella d’Oro lily;Iris (same); Seedum (same);Black Eyed Susan I was able to find some nice photos of these and other flowers.
I hope you enjoy my virtual flower garden, and I also hope mine turn out to be as beautiful as these. I‘ll post them when they bloom, perhaps next year.
Spring has sprung, and that means it is time to plant something. I have been a home gardener much of my life, but since I can’t kneel and bend the way I used to, I must do things a little differently. I thought it would be fun to put together a little photo story of this year’s gardening effort.
One of the best methods for a small garden is the raised garden, and another is the pot garden. Since my resources for building a garden are limited – space, materials, and physical strength – pot planting seemed the way to go. So I gathered up all the miscellaneous pots I could find in and around the house and made a plan. Types of plants: foods I use most often and that give me a ready supply while I cook; plants that are “ready made,” that is, available in small pots at my local Big Blue Box Store. I don’t have the space, time, or talent for growing everything from seed, and most of all, I love plant shopping. If you’re a gardener, you know what I mean. Merely approaching the garden center puts a smile on my face. The hanging flower pots and trays of annuals, sun-loving or shade-loving, they are all gorgeous. And what of the vegetables? Where shall I go first?
This day I went directly to the herbs. This may not sound very exciting, but they truly are pleasurable on multiple levels: their fragrance, beautiful and artful appearance, and multiple uses. There are literally hundreds of usable herbs on the planet, but a dozen or so is all one needs for a useful and beautiful garden.
Next to the herbs were the tomatoes. Since these were on my shopping list, I perused the shelves and selected three types, all maturing at different times. Below you will see some of the items I bought. The plants I did not choose: sprawling vines such as cucumbers and squash. I don’t have room for these, plus these and many others are available in plentiful supply at local farm stands.
Next, I spent time strolling through the entire garden center, bought a bag of soil, and made mental notes on what I might want later on. I have learned over years of gardening that the old adage, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach,” applies here. You can do only so much planting, mulching, and organizing in one session, and you can always go back for more stuff. I spent $40 today – $32 on vegetables and herbs, and another $8 on the bag of soil for the flower garden. I will get this back in produce over the summer.
I found this photo on the Web. Now that’s a herb garden!
It’s mid-May, and I already have tomato blossoms. This compact variety was developed for growing in a pot on your deck.
Now on to the flower garden. There is a spot on the east side of the house that gets more than a half day of sun and where the soil has been worked in years past. This spot is also in dire need of more working and planting. A few sad-looking and low-growing perennials appear every spring, but this spot cries out for tall and colorful plants. In addition, I would like not to put in a lot of work in this spot year after year. Therefore, this will be the place for colorful perennials, with perhaps a few annuals blending in each year. As I write this, the only thing I have planned to include are some purple iris, and that is where the help comes in.
My daughter and I had arranged that yesterday would be the day that she would come over with her kids, along with their gardening tools and youthful energy, and dig up the old soil, remove the weeds, amend the soil with new, and generally loosen up the ground so that we could plant. I got a call from her telling me that my 11-year-old granddaughter was sick with a cold, so could we wait until Monday to work the garden. Of course I agreed, and I hope the weather will cooperate.
Meanwhile, I had prepared some refreshments for all of us, especially the kids, as a treat for after the work was finished. The cookies went into the freezer for next week, and this is what the spot still looks like. Since this project is a work in progress, and I intend to add more photos as we go, I have decided to post this now and edit and add photos along the way. That way you can keep up with the garden’s progress.