from The Year of the Garden
by Andrea Cheng
illustrated by Patrice Bardon
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
Plop a few juicy, grape tomatoes on top of crisp Romaine and red leaf lettuce. Toss with sun-warmed cucumbers and bright yellow peppers. Dress with fresh basil and oregano in a little olive oil. Now that’s a salad. Too bad for me it’s not my salad.
Peppers and cucumbers do not thrive in my garden. I use transplants for my lettuce box. I keep it handy, at the back door, next to the basil and oregano. My Romaine was doing really well and so were the red leaf lettuces. I went to Maryland to watch my granddaughter graduate from preschool and when I got back, oh no! The lettuces were gone! Stumps sheered down to the dirt!
I have grown lettuces for many years. I have never seen a rabbit in my yard. I’ve had my issues with some really cute and destructive chipmunks. Squirrels are harmless visitors. I even saw a skunk once, but it hung around under the bird feeder.
Then I saw the groundhog. I’m sure it was s/he who lopped my lettuces, nibbled my nasturtiums, pilfered my parsley, then skulked off to its new home under my kitchen window. I know, I know, two problems in one hog. But right now I’m thinking garden, or used-to-be-garden. (Getting rid of the g’hog will be a topic for another day, I’m sure.) I still have my grape tomatoes. But nothing else. Hmmm.
The real gardener in our family was our baba, Dad’s mom. She planted her backyard garden between two-by-sixes set about a foot apart. They ran the whole length of the yard. She balanced on them to tend her plants. We balanced on them when she’d chase us, playing tag through the cabbages and peppers. Baba’s garden was a beautiful mix of vegetables, peonies, dahlias and a peach tree.
Baba and Grampy had a gravel driveway with a grassy strip up the middle. Baba loved flowers so much that she planted the grassy strip with portulacas. Those low-growing, self-seeding beauties lit up the drive in rainbow colors when the sun came out.
My favorite garden was the one I grew on the balcony of my sixth floor apartment. I found wooden Pepsi crates somewhere and filled them with garden soil. I don’t know how my (ex)husband carted them all up the elevator, dragged them down the hall, and hauled them outside. They were heavy. I was pregnant with our first daughter, and didn’t do any lifting. I planted at least half a dozen boxes with peppers, green and wax beans, cucumbers, lettuces and tomatoes.
Our daughter was born at the beginning of October, after a bountiful harvest. Then we (he) dismantled and removed the dirt-filled remains of the garden. I was pretty busy with the new baby, so, that fell to him, too.
I don’t think I ever properly said thank-you for all that work and care. If you’re reading this, Jay, thanks! Tending that garden is one of my many happy memories.
Now I have mostly flowers, thanks to the groundhog. If it doesn’t rain today, I’ll sit out there for a while and watch them grow.