I grew up in a city but we had a garden. Next to our garage, there was a five foot wide strip of land. My father planted tomatoes and lettuce – maybe there were other things like peppers. But tomatoes grew there abundantly. The very best tomatoes cannot be had at a grocery store – at least not the grocery stores that I remember. My Dad was the original Yoda but, rather than riddles he offered guidance in the form of brief statements that had the force of incontrovertible truths. And this was one of those truths: You can’t buy good tomatoes in a grocery store.
The other great small garden that I knew well belonged to my grandmother. She grew tomatoes and strawberries. As if it were yesterday, I remember hulling the berries at the kitchen sink. Of course, as in any really good memory, there was sun streaming in the window. She never really talked a lot so we worked in silence until the bowl was full.
In those small garden plots, gardening became a part of the life. You might even say that gardening was woven into the everyday of living as a warp thread. No matter how small that spot, something good will grow.
How I Became a Compulsive Gardener
I was a small time gardener until I started writing a dissertation and finally had a large spot to grow things. The garden spot was on a steep slope in the hills. Rocky. Steep. Impossible clay soil. It was a slow going. I started with a compost bin which was absolutely necessary to enrich the spoil. The compost bin was located on that steep slope. The second time that I slipped and fell on my way to that bin, I decided I needed to make some steps. It took awhile but I finally figured out how to build steps – one step at a time!
Ultimately, the building of the steps taught me how to write a dissertation – As I would take my shovel and dig into that hard clay, I understood that as in everything we do in life, it is one shovelful of clay, one step or one paragraph. By the time the dissertation was complete, the steps were complete and the garden was well on its way!
As the garden grew, I found that I had more and more ideas that required a much larger knowledge base than I learned in the city. Seed catalogs and gardening books provided inspiration for me – as they have since the very first printing of drawing of a garden. Medieval Health Guides included illustrations of plants in gardens – many of these are now online like this illustration of sage.
This week we added many new titles to our ever increasing collection of gardening books with books from a garden club in Worthington! They are readily identified by the bookplate – flowers of course! The best news is that our price for most of our books is well below the cost of a new paperback. One of our new finds is very hard to put down because of the format – questions and answers that are organized so well that the book flows. . .
F. F. Rockwell, 10,000 Garden Questions. Answered by Experts. (Doubleday, 1944, revised 1959). I appreciate the title – it is accurately descriptive! Weighing in at a hefty 1390 pages, the coverage is encyclopedic. Even though there is only a brief article on organic gardening, there is a wealth of information, so it is a good place to look when you have a question.
Speaking of organic, we have many books, both vintage and recent about organic gardening published by Rodale Press.
One of my favorite gardening books is The Landscape Gardening Book by Grace Tabor (1911). She begins this beautiful book with “Gardens do not happen. A Garden is as much the expression of an idea as a poem, or a symphony . . . But ordinarily we fail to recognize this until the actual work of evolving a garden lies before us.” Soon after I built my first few steps, I realized that the most important element in the garden is structure that is guided by our plot of earth. The biggest strength of this book comes from her idea that every garden, no matter how small, needs a place for us to rest, to sit, to meditate . . . as she writes, there is a spirit in the garden. This is truly a lovely book!
More later . . . I can no longer ignore the laundry. It evolves.