Popular culture, social media, and our peers are all embracing a trend in home gardening across the country (though few of these gardens are as radical as Ron Finley’s median-turned-vegetable-garden project in Los Angeles). A guest for dinner last night mentioned that “even Oprah is on trend now,” having planted her own garden. Here in North Alabama, the home garden is hardly a trend. Most people grow at least a couple of tomato and pepper plants every summer. And if you take a drive down one of our many county roads, you’re likely to see large swaths of lawn devoted to food, with neat rows of summer vegetables stretching over red blankets of Alabama clay.
I’ve had a garden since I moved into my house in 2006. Putting it in might take only a weekend, but the cultivation takes years. However, it’s the week-to-week management that becomes difficult. When temperatures reach 98 degrees in the shade (and stays there for days on end) keeping up with the insects, weeds, the harvest, and watering becomes quite the challenge. Making time becomes stealing time. This is why my generous fall garden was still in the ground in late May, every kale or broccoli plant flowered and well on its way to seed.
I must admit, there’s something really very beautiful about an overgrown garden. The different textures that arise as tiny leaves slowly become flowers on the Swiss chard and long thin seed pods jut from the narrow kale stalks add a surprising backdrop, both wild and orderly in their rows. One of our team members has a garden in her front yard (a little bold for most southerners) and she swears her overgrown kale and collards blend right in with the landscape. Though personally, I prefer the privacy of my backyard. Gardening time is quiet time for me.
By letting things go a little bit, I’ve been able to show Maggie the complete circle of plant life, the way the kale and Swiss chard continue to grow and form seeds for next year’s harvest. Seed saving might be one of the simplest forms of recycling, and I’ve left a few plants for that reason. When the pods dry out, we will collect them for planting again in September.
Rouge garlic, volunteered from previous years, is perfect for the picking right now. As we pull up the fresh bulbs to make room for a summer crop, I make plans to chop and sauté with the last of the spinach from our local farmer’s market.
I admit that I’m already excited about the tomato sandwiches to come, even though I’ve just planted the seeds in clay pots. Somehow, they will grow and, although I am late this year, we will have a bumper crop of tomatoes. At least, I am counting on it.
We are also all hoping that it will not be so hot and dry as it was last year. Check back over the summer as my kitchen garden grows and we report on the circle of gardening. Look for stories, helpful information, photographs, and recipes. Be ready to get a little dirty.