(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
True gardeners are at the height of “their” season. For me it isn’t so much a passion as an entertainment.
I took my first interest in the process of gardening when by parents bought their first house, which was in San Diego in the mid 50s. Clairmont Mesa was just being cleared for post war developments of ranch style homes. Mom and Dad picked a style, a plot in the development, and then watched the house grow. Several times a week Dad would put us all in the car and drive from Linda Vista, where we were renting an apartment in a cinderblock style complex, across a ranch road with steers on either side of the road and a dirt cloud billowing behind us to where Clairmont Mesa Drive ended, then a few blocks back into the farm of new homes. During World War II Daddy had been offered land on this mesa for 25 cents an acre. At the time he didn’t think anyone would ever want land that barren and far from the bay. Now they were going to pay close to $14,000 for a quarter acre and three-bedroom rancher. We would drive carefully back into the development, around all the machinery and trash that abounds in such places and park on the street in front of what would be our house. Jumping out of the car we would pick our way to however much of the house then existed and climb all over and through it. I don’t know that in today’s litigious world that that would be allowed, but we surely enjoyed it. It was part of the dreaming and planning of what was to be. Daddy was on a cruise around the Pacific when it was time for Moma to do the escrow papers at the bank. With my two-year-old brother and a second-grade me in tow, she packed a canvas bag of small toys and coloring books. It was a tense afternoon as there was nothing for us to do at the bank, and Jim soon grew tired of the things Moma had brought for him. She was feeling the strain of the responsibility of signing paperwork that obligated them both to the purchase of a house, and became more and more upset as she attempted to read the papers with Jim just wanting to “look around.” Frequently she would raise her head, turn from the men at the desk and give me “the look” that meant I was to curtail my brother’s current activity. Jim has always been a determined soul so it was not an easy task to distract him. The afternoon seemed to go on forever when all of a sudden she was in front of us with the keys to the house. We then made our first of a series of trips to take our belongings from the apartment to our house. By the time the carrier d
Daddy was on had docked, we had moved everything that we could lift and would fit into the trunk of our ’52 Buick. Daddy borrowed a truck and some of his shipmates to move the heavier stuff. There wasn’t much as most of their purchases were made after they bought the house.
At that point, builders didn’t do much for landscape. They had put in a driveway, front walk, and a slab patio in the back. The front was smoothed and seeded, nothing in the back. So my first taste of gardening was to rake smooth, and remove the stones, from what was to be the back yard. The sprinklers seemed to run forever to get the grass seed to germinate. When Daddy asked Moma what she wanted for flowers she said she wanted a cherry tree, an orange tree, and some marigolds and geraniums. Having been born and raised in Pennsylvania neither of them knew what to plant in southern California so with much trial and error they eventually got some things growing. In an effort to have total family participation, Moma decided I should have a small patch of my own. When she went to buy some seed packets she took me with and asked me to choose a variety that I would like to grow. I couldn’t decide which of the lovely pictures of flowers on the front of the of the envelops I wanted. They were all so full and colorful. Moma got tired of waiting and handed me an assortment of annuals packet. I was so eager to get started that as soon as we got home I ran to the small area next to the front door where I tore open my envelope and threw the seeds down randomly. Not exactly where Moma had thought my patch would be, but it was an assortment of flowers. Then we watered and I waited impatiently for the seedlings to make their appearance. As they popped up we attempted to identify each little plant. I, in my eagerness, had destroyed the envelope so that we didn’t even have a list of what we were to expect. After a couple of weeks, Moma had puzzled out most of what had sprouted. Some zinnia, cosmos, and alyssum she would pronounce. The names meant nothing to me. I just wanted to see the flowers. There was one very sturdy looking plant, that she was sure was one of the wanted ones, and not a weed, but she just couldn’t identify it. Daddy was convinced that it looked like a weed and kept telling us that we should just pull it. Moma demurred, she was sure that, as soon as it bloomed, she would know what it was. Soon it was larger than most of the other plants that had come up, and it had small flower buds, so Moma felt vindicated. I was impressed that it was waist high. Then, it was the summer before third grade, so I wasn’t all that tall.
One dinnertime during this summer, Moma had gotten watermelon for dessert. With a common admonition used at the time, I was warned not to swallow the seeds, as I didn’t want a watermelon vine growing out of my mouth and nose. I argued that these couldn’t be the same sort of seeds as we had planted because they were in the melon, not a paper envelope. As I continued to eat my way through my watermelon slice spitting seeds to my plate with great abandon, both parents tried to explain that all seeds came from their parent plants and just some were put into paper packets for home growers to put in their garden. After one hearty bite, without even excusing myself, I dashed from the table, out the back door and began randomly spitting my watermelon seeds into the planting area Daddy had built against the back of the yard. Having emptied my mouthful of seeds I proudly walked back into the house and announced that I had planted the watermelon seeds. My parents, who had yet to move after my abrupt departure, were sitting at the table with quizzical expressions on their faces. My explanation necessitated a trip into the back yard to see where, exactly, I had “planted” these seeds. Moma was mumbling something about not wanting watermelon vines in her flower garden while Daddy reassured her that it was too late in the year for them to grow. Of course we couldn’t see the seeds nor could I remember exactly where I had spit them.
The healthy plant by the front door was now in bloom with tiny, little yellow flowers. Daddy said that it still looked like a weed to him. Moma said that she thought it looked familiar and reached out to touch a leaf which emitted a very distinctive aroma. Then she recognized the sturdy green bush as a tomato plant. Daddy really wanted it out then. After all, who grew tomatoes at the front door? Moma wanted to see if it would really set tomatoes. It was already very late in summer with school to begin soon. I didn’t want “my” plant torn out. Daddy gave in to us, for as long as it would take us to get the first tomato. I watched as the plant set hard little green ball that grew to be about the size of my fist. They then began to lighten. I was cautioned not to touch, as that would cause them to fall off before we would be able to eat them. So I would bend over and practically put my nose on each one, inhaling the heady aroma of the vine and ripening fruit as I examined it daily. As they gradually colored our eagerness for the first bite grew. By now Daddy was caught up in the anticipation. One evening, just as Daddy got home, Moma marched us all out to view our tomato plant. That evening we had ripe tomatoes, still warm off the vine. Nothing could have tasted sweeter.
Now our attention shifted to the watermelon vines, which had grown up between Moma’s flowers and trailed along the edge of the short slump stonewall Daddy had put in to contain the flowerbed. School had started. Watermelon season was over, but these green balls seemed to be growing quite nicely. Hallowe’en passed and Daddy began giving the watermelon a rap each time we examined them. Not ready yet, he would pronounce, and we would walk away. We were approaching the end of November when Daddy decided that our watermelon was close to ready. Were we to have watermelon for Thanksgiving? Moma, a staunch traditionalist in matters of holiday menus, was aghast. Well, that’s when the melon came ripe. So it became part of our Thanksgiving dinner that year.
I decided watermelon were too much work. There was an awful lot of plant and time needed to get a melon while our little tomato plant was going gangbusters by the front door. Inside the house began to fill with the delightful aroma of Christmas baking, but at the front door we had fresh tomatoes. Now, the plant was beginning to get a little leggy, but the fruit was still tasty. Inside we took stencils and glass wax window cleaner to put holiday designs on the picture window in the living room. As we were doing this, the tomato plant stared up teasingly at my father. That was it. The death knell of the tomato plant had sounded. He just couldn’t rationalize the existence of a tomato plant and Christmas decorations. Especially not in his front yard. He quietly walked out the front door, firmly grabbed the vine close to the ground and pulled. In the blink of an eye my first tomato plant disappeared into the trashcan with Moma following and protesting that there were still green tomatoes on it that we could use.
In subsequent years I have had varying degrees of success with gardening. Each garden has provided its own delights and disappointments. For me it is always a matter of hit or miss, an indulgence that provides great gratification.
The last word:
Suzy still gets a lot of entertainment value out of her gardens. She has an herb garden, and when she cooks she often wanders out to pick fresh herbs: seconds from plant to pot or table.
Keep your sense of humor.