By Y. Hope Osborn
From My Garden
Sunshine is its tang, the red juice bursting in your mouth and running down your throat. The warmth and reflection of the sun is in its skin as you pluck it off a stalk you grew and now gather from. Your tools dug at the earth, disrupting soil, entrenched grass, and aerating insects. If you are lucky you don’t have to force your way through sticky clay or resisting rocks. You run your fingers through the cool soil and newborn white roots of the new thing of the earth. Tending—watering, feeding, protecting from raging weather or intrusive insects, you wait as the stalk grows like Jack’s. The wise man’s gifts follow the yellow stars sprinkled one then another among the ruffled green leaves, and before you know it the gifts mature into pale balls, hanging lazily as if sunbathers on vacation. Watch closely. You do not see them at work. Your hands drew these from the ground and nurtured a new creation of life into bright, bold cherry tomatoes. You are both creator and caretaker—a god of your own Eden.
Your Eden holds many more delights—some secret to yourself and some shared with others. After winter passes, spring settles over your hope in an array of plants, some awakened like Rip Van Winkle and some newly planted like an infant at nursery. I grow giddy as a carefree schoolgirl when it comes to making my trip to the garden nursery, shopping list in hand and excited in spirit. They are all fearfully and wonderfully made, but I know that this 6-pack of seasonal annuals is better than its brothers and sisters next over. These are going to grow lusher in leaf and more brilliant in color than any other for any other gardener, because I believe I know the secret to that life. (You know what it is? The leaves are through and through green, bunched tightly against the soil.) Perhaps, like me, you lingered among the colorful scene, wondering if you could plant just one more thing—exotic, stunning, a goddess of flora. If you are me, you only have so much room for a garden on and around your home’s patio, but you push the limits a little more each year.
Not just sometimes but often a neighbor blows you the kiss of a compliment in passing or admires your work in stopping to talk garden. These are the echoes of a time past when neighbors weren’t strangers. My neighbors, like Joe, who used to work in landscaping and who passes along magazines full of bountiful gardens, are happy to pass the time, relaxing in thoughts apart from life’s struggles. These conversations are worlds apart from mixers’ forced awkward exchanges. These neighbors aren’t trying to collaborate in a project or network for a job, though these conversations are a collaboration in the secrets of gardening. Perhaps the simplicity one feels entering a garden eases us into real, organic exchanges.
As your garden smiles and grows you realize that the cooler Spring and Autumn days of the South are perfect days for perching yourself in your oasis. I sometimes sit on iron wrought chairs at a small filigreed table caressed by a warm light, enjoying being in the midst of my little bit of theatre—lovely ruffles of coral roses, lipstick pink geraniums, royal velvet petunias, blue snoball hydrangea, rainbow of sunset lantanas—all in bountiful nests of rough, ragged, ruffled, or rounded leaves. The fragrance cannot be captured in a bottle to be sold in mechanic’s glass. The closest you come is momentary—cut flowers in glass vases cheering your home with the earth. It is such a delight to bring a bit of my garden in. I take photographs of these bunches, just as I photograph the uncut flowers.
Your hands drew these from the ground and nurtured a new creation of life into bright, bold cherry tomatoes.
One year I fall in love with the shade-loving pottable dwarf gardenia, and never regret that evergreen sphere that graces me with an abundance of white, beautifully scented white star bursts every May-June. I love to float the fragrant flowers—like the woman of a Humphrey Bogart movie from which I remember nothing but the hypnotic use of gardenias floating in a round vase of water. Your babies are nestled in the freshly turned soil and added food. You wait, but your garden already promises many wonders in the fresh colors of new petals and lively leaves.
You tasted the sun in cherry tomatoes. Now you taste cool evenings under shade trees as you crush thin, oval leaves like petals between your teeth. Your tongue encounters something fresh and new, tingling truer than any mint gum or mouthwash. Mints are the wares of perennial, year-after-year, summers. My friends delight in the sweet mint tea that is a nectar as refreshing as walking bare foot on soft, summer grass. I grasp a bundle of peppermint, quickly and ruthlessly slicing at stalks, gathering these goods in a sparkling crystal pitcher and pouring over it the sweet snow and hot water that blends into this drinkable dew that chilled invigorates my delighted guests and I as rain on a parched land.
As your garden smiles and grows you realize that the cooler Spring and Autumn days of the South are perfect days for perching yourself in your oasis.
One secret to a healthier organic garden is to defend your good friends—the ladybug, dressed in popular polka dots of the roaring twenties and referee bees in yellow and black.
One secret to a healthier organic garden is to defend your good friends—the ladybug, dressed in popular polka dots of the roaring twenties and referee bees in yellow and black. Even the more frightening wasp flits among the plants harmless in their easy way apart from home. I am cautious when I see them, but after years of gardening I have yet to be stung by a wasp in my garden. These visitors prey on the bugs that drag your plants slowly to their death and they bring life through pollination. You need not poison your charges with pesticides that do not differentiate the mannered from the malevolent.
The other secret to a healthier organic garden is to shake things up, meaning mix the mints with the miniature roses and the chives with the cherry tomatoes. They need not be planted in the same spot, but they are good neighbors to one another. Some plants, particularly herb plants that I am happy to spice my meals with, are natural deterrents. And a natural deterrent is not to mass plant, putting a bull’s eye on your hapless babies. Besides needing that deterrent is as good an excuse as any for having such a bounty of variety to enjoy year around.
Every time I pass my handcrafted haven I delight again, my eyes alighting like butterflies first on this plant then another like a preschool teacher looking over her charges, assuring myself that my children are happy and healthy. You and I are the happy healthy ones though. Gardening is good for mind, body, and spirit.
The summer begins to close its doors on your bit of paradise and with autumn flora fades, but the South keeps a secret from the North. Falling is but a new beginning for gardens like mine. Again, you feel the earthiness in your hands. It is time for the shy, brave smiles of pansies, piolas, violas, and even the rose-centered spiral of a kale or two.
This season’s trip to the garden nursery I must be much more artistic because from year to year the favored colors vary. There is my plan, and then there is their stock. We behold a new palette with which to brushstroke our garden. I always think of what I call watercolor pansies and am yearly reminded are antiques. This is the one thing I pin my hopes on, and, so far, am not disappointed. One of the nursery associates tells me they are a favorite they try to keep in—that is good for me! Now what color and style to contrast and compliment the softly rendered and ruffled pastels of the antiques? Oh good! They have the rose-centered, layered kale. What better to compliment it than pink and white smiling floral faces. There begins your quest. This year you dot the patio with brash pink, trailing wave, mounding chiller, and faithful standard pansies and johnny-jump-ups—an old-fashioned name I first knew of wee violas. What about the bold and the shy purples you see in every shape and form that you love for its decadence? Perhaps a few baby blue and white, fresh, yellow-faced trailers for hanging baskets which add dimension and light like Chinese lanterns to your planter’s paradise.
Mornings we work a new wonder despite the autumn chill heralding a winter to come. The chill is quickly lost to in the fanfare of turning over your theatre for a new dance of Eden. I can’t think of this store-bought soil as anything but clean dirt. I know. I know that is an oxymoron, but it is just so insect, rock, clay, root free with a consistency of thick sifted flour. I don’t mind scooping out buckets of soil that creeps under fingernails and in the creases of your hands and clothes. You ought to know it brings out your inner child in the play of it. You are amazed as you feed, water, and watch over your patio of pansies brilliant against the grey winter days and barren tree trunks. Color once more created by you despite the deterrence of winter’s grey weariness. Oh, it is just so refreshing to walk by those flowers day in and day out through cold, wet, sad days with so little cost to yourself—the winter is watering enough and your plants only need to be fed halfway through the winter with a sprinkling of dots that are the ice cream of your lovelies.
We did this with the hand of earth and sky—created a botanical bounty of beauty where nothing might be. The seasons move the sky month-by-month, awaiting the next wave of flowers. This is the delight, the interest, the work and wonder of gardening your own little Eden.