A Word In Edgewise: A Remembrance of Gardens Gone

A friend’s gift of surplus garden produce worked a bit of Proustian magic the other day. As I stir-fried the green beans and tender yellow squash, the scent of summer, garlic, and goodness whisked me back into time and reverie. 

First, into the sixties of the previous century, when Euell Gibbons’ best-seller, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, lured readers to seek their inner-hunter-gatherers, or at least their inner-foragers with modern access to chilled martinis and barbiturates.

Gibbons was not a survivalist, but a naturalist Pied-Piper intent on alerting the populace to the bounties around them, food for the picking in field and forest, along the highways and byways–in their very backyards. Something for nothing is innately American, and soon, by hundreds and thousands, followers were picking and plucking, unearthing little known leaves and tubers, learning to stalk that wild asparagus.

I became an acolyte. I also had access to acreage in western Connecticut, and becoming intrigued myself, began to scour the terrain. My new scavenger-vision spotted a hedgerow of wild Concord grapes, small, but tasty. I gathered, invested in pectin, canning jars, explored the kitchen, and behold: There was jam!

This led to putting hand to hoe, planting tomatoes, peppers, and so forth, and the creation of numerous large Mason jars of spaghetti sauce, together with the intimate knowledge of just how long a few gallons of spaghetti sauce will serve a household of one…

A blink further back in time: I was eight, patrolling rows of tomato plants with my dad. A shout of “Worm-ho!” and another fearsome four-inch horned worm, bright green, white-spotted, false eye glaring, would be plucked away–another tomato saved. We lived on a residential school campus, and Dad, the Principal, had several acres of fresh corn and tomatoes planted, a small apple orchard tended, to help feed students and staff. These plots required a tractor and workers, so my actual gardening, other than the worm-wrangling, was confined to savoring the aromas of warm earth and plants. Then looking forward to dinner.

The Austrian hills may be alive with music, but the Alabama earth grows rocks. What isn’t, that is, cemented in red clay… My final Proustian flutter found me down South with more garden than I could handle, and a fellow gardener whose motto was, “Anything worth doing is worth over-doing.”

An acre of front yard split by a 70-foot driveway offered plenty of room for his planned four four-foot-wide by forty-foot-long raised beds overhung by arched tomato trellises. After the backhoe man had removed the clay and (some of) the rocks, and the raised beds had been filled with imported, gardenable dirt, we were on our way.

If a few gallons of spaghetti will last the siege of Troy, I leave the math of this plot’s potential to the reader. A few tips: If neighbors realize you’re manufacturing zucchini on this scale, they will build gated fences and shun your caller ID. On the other hand, you cannot plant enough spinach to fill a 12” skillet. It takes a village for a household to have spinach for dinner. I did, I must confess, for once, have all the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes I could consume.

I now live alone tending only beginner Bonsai on my windowsill, but I’ll call my gardener neighbor and volunteer to consume future surplus. I welcome another reverie, and I’ll gladly revisit those tubs of salted Sweet 100s. I live to serve…It’s just my way.

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