Sunday, May 9, 2010

Deep, Dark and Dirty Secrets: A Love Affair with My Yard.

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I have a shocking confession to make. I love dandelions. There, I said it. I love how they smell, I love how cheerful they look dotting the yard. I love that my hands get sticky when picking them, and I love that they wilt magnificently when you try to keep them in a glass of water. I love that taste of their bitter leaves - though I don't eat them from my citified yard - and I love that my little Boy-O now likes to pick them and hand them to me and watch me smell them each time like I have never smelled them before. I feel a bit sad when Summer wears on and the bright yellow hats turn to bald heads...

I'm reminded of this storybook that I read and re-read hundreds of times when I was growing up. My worn and yellowed copy of Story Hour Readers Revised (Book Three) was bound in 1923. I'm unsure where I acquired the copy, but as a kid, I poured over the fairy tales contained within it's magical pages. My favorites still being abridged versions of The Brownie and the Cook and Black Beauty, an Aesop fable: The Cats and the Cheese, and this beautifully illustrated poem about Dandelion:

It may be the drawings that inspired my love of the dandelion - I couldn't really be sure. I know that now I am an adult, when I reread it's short text, that life itself indeed seems as shortly sweet as a poem meant for children... and all too soon another Spring will pass and the bounty of another Summer's produce will be upon us cooks to do and preserve with what we can.

It seems that those who love to cook (and eat) by extension, naturally grow gardens. I've had a garden in the yard of every apartment I've ever taken, and some were cared for better than others. When I first came to Milwaukee, Frankee came up for the weekend and we rototilled a proper green space along the edge of my driveway, enough room for trellising peas and other curiosities, even GOP graciously let me dig up her backyard of the Square Pie to plant tomatoes, basil and onions. Our first apartment after we got married had overgrown and sadly neglected gardens, that received my thorough overhauling, even though we moved out in June before I could see any fruits of my labor.

When we moved to our house four years ago already, my Father-in-Law helped me turn the ground behind my garage. At the time, it seemed like a good idea - and it still does every early Spring until the hedge of wildness grows up around it. Even though it is south-facing, last year I hardly got a ripe tomato, and green peppers and eggplants never matured. This year, I've decided to plant it full of shade perennials and attempt to be as good of a gardener as the generations of my family before me.


My Grandpa O. is a great gardener, and in central Wisconsin tended a garden all the while my Dad grew up, planting in him too the enjoyment a backyard garden can bring. He still gardens each year, now in his '80's, as spry and able-bodied as ever. My Gram, grew an astounding array of haphazard plants, flowers and vegetables in northern Wisconsin. For years, after retirement, she grew for the farmer's market, and still had abundance left to share with any and everyone who may have needed it. Both of my own parents cultivate truly beautiful gardens, that are as gorgeous as they are productive. Neat rows alternating of corn, rhubarb, cosmos, pickles, peppers, all looking like the cover of an Organic Gardening magazine. Really, that is not an exaggeration, since they both enjoy the outdoors so much, that most of their free time is spent in enjoyment of yard work.

I assembled some raised-bed boxes in my back yard this afternoon, which along with my already established herb bed will get ample and full direct south-exposure sunlight. Already, I'm happy to see the shock of green chives, sage and lemon thyme poking up from what always strikes me as incredible odds given the cold and depth of a Wisconsin winter. Last year, I planted some herbs in an over sized planter, and grew too lazy to clean them out in the Fall. Good thing, because a good amount of Russian tarragon began growing inside the garage in early Spring, and now that I've moved it outside, it seems voracious in it's attempts to propagate itself. This is pleasant news for my egg-eating.

Every year, I say that I'm going to be better at growing gardens. Not that anyone who sticks a seed into soil can't be rewarded with something, but this year, I really want to "cultivate" a garden. Not only for it's production, but also for it's beauty. I vow to water and weed, I vow to take care in garden planning, and I vow to plant some flowers among the veg.

Lemon Thyme.

I know each Spring, it seems like an easy thing to vow, at least for me. I forgo New Year's resolutions in favor of this Spring resolution nearly every year, but now that I've committed at least in type, I am sure to follow through on that vow. I guess I'll have to wait and see if I can deliver on my promise, but I want to lead my little Boy-O into the same love of the natural world that I grew up with, be it citified or not. And it is so true that spending even the smallest amount of time cultivating even the smallest seed of a thing can result in amazing bounty. How lucky I am to be able to teach someone that!


  1. These are great photos! I can't believe they were taken with your iPhone. You (unlike me, the tech laggard that I am ;) ) have the newest iPhone which is able to focus unlike mine! -Noerah

  2. We make that same vow to ourselves every year. Some years, we're quite good at the whole gardening thing. Other years, our garden thrives quite in spite of our efforts (or "non-efforts," as it were).

    I see you've got a bumper crop of herbs growing there already, which is a nice start. And herbs are particularly rewarding, since they actually thrive on neglect! While they need water, the best (and most flavorful) herbs are grown in barren soil where they need to struggle a bit.

    Let me also assure you that urban gardening can be QUITE as satisfactory as rural gardening -- and maybe even more, since all that life seriously enhances the cement landscape!!

  3. My landlady just planted a huge organic garden - and said I will also reap the benefits! I cannot wait to make dishes for she and me...its a lot of work so I am also helping her tend to it.

  4. Ah, I'm so jealous of your garden! My backyard gets NO sunlight so it is a pain to grow anything in there. I still try though -- last year I tried cilantro and mint but with no luck. :(

  5. Your garden is so lovely! And its great to think about the tradition of gardening passing through the generations. When I was a kid I totally did not appreciate spending time gardening w/ my mom but now I wish I had access to the lovely little garden I grew up with!


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