Of Flowers and Vegetables


As often happens, the plants of a berm, when grown, are too crowded and must be removed or at least trimmed to share the space and light and air. Some weeks ago, Andrew and his workers reshaped the berm between the house next door and us. We like our neighbors Margaret and James, so the berm’s brief bareness is not a concern, and this morning I noticed the first fruits of our decision.

Going out to ride in the moisture of the morning, I saw what I thought was a male cardinal in the berm. But then I saw several male cardinals and knew that was unlikely. Looking again, I saw that the two camellias had produced several flowers that shared the bright cardinal color of the male bird.  Those flowers, draped by the rich green of their leaves, affirmed our decision to thin the berm.

Turning to the front yard for my ride, I thought of the poet Cummings and how he described this season as “mud-luscious”, and “puddle-wonderful.” I had no interest, as a seventy-one-year-old, to be involved with mud or puddles, but I grant to Cummings that he had it right. I do regret, however, that there is no “eddieandbill”, or “bettyanddisbel” yelling and playing in the near-by yards. The gleeful screams of young voices are an announcement of spring that I miss on our street.

Settling in for a slow warm-up to be followed by a hard twenty minutes of hand-cranking, I decided that it was time to visit Adam at Brawley’s and ask for his tomato plant recommendations since Mary Ann and I have decided to plant a few varieties outside the back fence, away from the dog area. While we lived in the Shenandoah Valley we had a small vegetable garden, and we will have a sort of one here, but just for a few tomato plants and perhaps one hot pepper plant.

As a boy growing up in Kannapolis, not far from Lake Norman where we now live, my mother would sometimes plant a garden. In fact, most families on the mill hill had gardens because they were a primary source of food. Corn, tomatoes, squash, lima beans, pole beans, peppers hot and green, and anything else the family enjoyed was planted, eaten while fresh, shared with neighbors, or canned for the cold winter. I still see and smell the succotash Maw-Maw Alice would serve us on some cold, January day. What we did not grow or was shared by a neighbor, came from a near-by grower or from an orchard. Those days were ones of anticipation: we weeded and watered the vegetable garden behind our little, white mill houses as we waited for that first white flower announcing a tomato or bean; we waited for the first cantaloupe or watermelon, often given to mother by a mill co-worker whose husband grew them. Oh, the early growing season was such a one of anticipation for what was coming. We were excited much like the four children in Cummings’ poem.

Today is different. This morning when I removed the blueberries and pecans from the refrigerator to mix with my yogurt-the blueberries are from Chile and the pecans from California. Both are enjoyable as are the ambrosia apples from New York state. I can eat them during the latter half of February, out of season, because of modern technology and shipping and other factors. If I want it, I can have it immediately or at least in a day or so. No more waiting. No more anticipating. No more planting. Yet, I remember, Peaches, and how mother would tell us,  as spring slowly turned into summer, that the delicious South Carolina peaches would be ripe soon and that shipments of them would be sent to our stores or available at a road-side stand; or if she could get someone to bring us some from an orchard, she would. No peach ever tasted better than that first one-the one waited for day after day.

My friend Druin tells me how the painter Haydon wrote in 1842 to the poet Wordsworth lamenting the passing of their lives and days. Haydon observes that not even the peaches are as big as in earlier days. I don’t know about the peaches of 1842 England, but the peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, blackberries, and all else of my youth, tasted better for my waiting to take  that first bite of a new season.


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