Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't bend over in the garden, Granny. . . You know them taters got eyes!

In honor of all of you who are getting gardens started for the summer, here's a Mother Earth goddess and stand. You notice I don't have a garden picture to share with you? Well, of course not, since I have whatever is the opposite of a green thumb! However, since my mom does have a green thumb, I grew up knowing about all that stuff. See? "All that stuff"-- it just came out of my brain exactly like that, lumping all the nuances of gardening and tending Mother Nature's beautiful plants into one big blob of knowledge, not acknowledging all the finer points of plant care. I suck at it, that's why. Every year, I smell the newly turned earth as the farmers and gardeners prepare the soil, and every year, I take a deep breath and sigh. How wonderful to grow your own food, to raise crops that feed animals, to tend luscious flowers that grace your landscape!

. . . and then, thankfully, before I can get down the road to the nursery or into town to Wal-Mart or Lowe's for a big pile of sweet, colorful flowers to plant in pots on the patio, thankfully, I remember dropping endless rows of cut up potatoes, hoeing corn in the field (yes, Mother, I'm pretty sure we hoed the field corn at least one summer), picking green beans, you name it and we probably did it. Alright, Mother, before you read any further, you know I love your flowers and I've certainly come to appreciate your garden! You guys should see Ma and Pop's gigantic yard in the middle of summer:
  • petunias overflowing from whiskey barrel halves, not just a couple of them, but a row beside the parking spot
  • impatiens lining a good 2-3 foot border on the shady side of the house, plus sometimes they join some hostas right there by the big maple tree
  • lilies! oh my gosh, lilies of all colors and sizes! this has to be one of my favorite things my mom has added to her outdoor plant repetoire!
  • clematis climbing a trellis or two
  • marigolds somewhere, almost always, maybe just a row in the garden, but they will be present without a doubt
  • hostas and elephant ears-- gigantic dark purple elephant ears dressing up the old bulldozer
  • Grandma's roses-- don't know that I've ever called them anything other than that. They started at my dad's mom's house, but after all these years and the way they have multiplied, maybe they ought to be called Clarabelle's most lovely smelling and pretty roses ever! You should see them, old fashioned profusions of dark-lilac-with-a-hint-of-dark-pink petals around a small yellow center, with a profusion of good scent, too!
  • who knows yet what else there will be, you'll just have to stop by and see for yourself

Okay, see there?? I do notice and appreciate all those flowers! And I didn't even start on a list of all the good things that come from the garden every year. I love to put out flowers myself, and I have a pretty good eye for design when I do set them out. But after that? Water them? Oops, forgot to check, I mean, really, we had rain last week sometime. Weed them? Who can remember such a thing except when you're on your way out of the house in a hurry and notice that big weed taking over a pot? Don't want to have to run back inside to get the green stain and weedy smell off your hands, you're in a hurry. See what I mean? It's better that I just appreciate other people's flowers, take pictures, even talk plants, but not put out any myself because they'll somehow end up neglected. So, now that I've convinced you that I do love greenery, let me tell you what flashes back into my mind as soon as I contemplate having a garden myself. Oh, and you have to remember this is filtered through my brain after almost 3 decades. Oh, oh, and don't forget, I was not (and probably still not) an bonafide lover of the outdoors. Ready? Here we go with my gardening memories:
  • Pickles from a jar have nothing in common with the cucumbers they were made from, just trust me on this one. Pickles are sweet and smooth and twisting the jar open is the worst thing about them. Cucumbers, on the other hand, are prickley and the vines kinda scratch and if you get up really early so it's not so hot while you're picking that half acre of cukes then the dew and the dirt just add to the prickley, nasty, sweaty, dirty mess. But, at least when you're done, you can take a bath and go do something else, right? Wrong. That Vlasic stork ain't gonna swoop down over your house and pick up all those cukes! Now, you gotta take them to the pickle station in the middle of the boondocks and sit in that hot car and wait your turn to unload. I'm sure we entertained ourselves, and I'm pretty sure Mother brought along almost frozen Cokes to drink while we waited. . . but that's not the part I remember.
  • Tobacco cannot be worth the trouble to smoke if you ever have to raise it yourself. Truly, if we wanted to stop people from smoking, all we'd have to do is say, "Okay, have at it, but you gotta grow your own." Now, tobacco used to be a big cash crop where I grew up, and tobacco paid for a lot of extra goodies as we were growing up. I don't like smoking because it'll kill ya, plain and simple (except it won't be a plain and simple death, it'll be a slow and ugly one). But if the statistics and the hacking/wheezing of any smokers you know won't convince you that tobacco is evil, then maybe you should grow some one year. First, ya gotta sow a seed bed. You pull lots of plants from it once they are big enough, then set them out using a tobacco setter that keeps droning along as the tractor runs up and down the rows. Oh, yeah, the plants have dirt on their roots that dangles off slowly on your lap if you're the setter, and the water dumped along the row as you go helps ensure that feet and legs are coated with mud and dirt. Great, they're planted, now to sit back and wait until it's time to roll up a big cigar. . . not! There's hoeing, and a little bit of hilling, and weeding, and spraying, and suckering (now, there's a nasty job), and cutting and stripping and. . .then you might roll something up to puff on.
  • Ah, the potatoes! Potatoes plants grow from cut up potatoes that are beginning to sprout. The places where these sprouts will come out of the skin are called "eyes". My mother always insisted that we turn the eye part of a piece of seed potato upward when we dropped it in the row to plant. Now, this adds to the time it takes to drop the seed potatoes down five or six endless rows (our gardens were never small plots, always huge as in half-to-whole-or-more acre size). I hated that part and was convinced it was made up "busy work" to keep us occupied even longer. Then, in my thirties, I casually mentioned my mom's garden to Mr. Stuckey one day. Mr. Stuckey must be approaching 75 or 80, and I figured he wouldn't mind sharing his gardening secrets, namely the secret to growing potatoes. Guess what he said? "Gotta make sure them eyes are turned up when you plant them, or you won't get nothing."
So, if you're a granny and you still wear dresses, don't forget one of my favorite quotes from the South's best columnist ever, the late Lewis Grizzard: "Don't bend over in the garden, Granny! You know them 'taters got eyes."

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