This picture is of my mother and her Grandfather, Mr. Tommy, of course. Being properly raised Southerners; my mother was always referred to as Miss Betty. The picture was taken in the family’s peach packing house in the late 1940’s. I believe gardening is in my genetic makeup; if you untwine any strand of my DNA a trowel, hoe or seedling is likely to fall out. Some of my earliest memories are of picking flowers in the garden with my mother. My grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps and was a peach farmer. As I became more interested in plants and gardening my mother would say “well, you got the farmer gene”.
This week always makes me think of my mother. She passed away 5 years ago this month. A great gardener and general fan of all things in nature; I take after her in that regard. One of my mother’s favorite things to do on Mother’s Day weekend was to go on the Tour of Gardens hosted by the Botanical Garden. The range of gardens was always interesting from the truly small but beloved gardens to the trophy ‘Parsley around the Pig’ gardens surrounding the ‘French Country’ style Marshmallow Mansions of the newly wealthy. For some reason the Parsley/Pig gardens usually included a fabulous French Country kitchen garden and often a tropical courtyard as well.
The kitchen gardens morphed into vegetable parterres featuring custom built wood treillage supporting plants and patterns delineated by rows of Dwarf Boxwood forming squares and triangles. Really beautiful, but often mixed with poisonous plants and vegetables most people won’t eat. I would love to know if anybody ever ate all of the ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard that was planted for its color. I am not sure I have met anyone who will eat Chard. I quit sending my husband out for herbs when he confused the Larkspur (poisonous) with the Rosemary.
The tropical gardens challenged those of us living north (at the time, we lived in Atlanta) of the tropics to grow plants where they weren’t supposed to grow. Palms and lush tender plants were coddled by gardeners in Courtyards surrounded by warm stucco walls. My mother latched on to this idea and took the challenge. Blessed with a slightly enclosed Eastern exposure and high shade provided by pine trees, it was possible to grow Fatsia, Agave and Tibouchina in her garden; just not for very long. Sometimes the tropicals would last for a couple of years, many times they were annuals or a short lived Event – the Tibouchina bloomed every few years until it finally succumbed either to heavy clay soil or cold. We had lunch a couple of times for Tibouchina flower viewings. Every time the cold got another plant she would say ‘Oh, well – I am a gardener and I try things” There may have been a funeral for the Phormium, we both loved that. Tall, grassy and a rusty plum color it just couldn’t take life in the Deep South.
In a stroke of brilliance, I decided to plant a mini vegetable parterre in my suburban side yard. I had maybe 7 feet of width and probably 12 in length. I hate the smell of boxwood and once I found out how much it cost I decided to go with clipped Germander hedges (this is actually done in France) French Country had arrived in the ‘burbs.
I planted the Germander in diamond shapes and clipped it. The Germander mini hedges looked great. Then I added two varieties of tomatoes for color. The tomatoes were staked on 4 sided bamboo teepees, surrounded by Germander diamonds. In the leftover triangular spaces, green beans, zucchini, and herbs grew.
This all looked great until summer kicked in and the plants really started to grow. I had never seen squash borers before and was so grossed out by them I pulled the Zucchini out before I ate the first one. The Germander turned out to be pretty uncooperative and grows more rapidly than boxwood. I soon realized that is was impossible to clip the Germander while there were vegetables in the garden. If you are a reader of gardening books it seems you can have a cool season vegetable garden. So I thought, after the tomatoes are finished, I will clip the Germander, plant my lettuces and it will look fabulous…Ha. Being blessed with heavy clay soil, however well amended I found it grows bitter, inedible lettuce and actual cold weather turns the bitter lettuce to brown mush.
My foray into European fashion vegetable gardening ended one day when I could not cope with the Germander clipping anymore. I got my pitchfork and unceremoniously recycled the bedraggled remains of the two Germander diamonds. The pea gravel paths got some stepping stones installed and my Rustic style of gardening returned to my vegetable garden. The vegetables were none the wiser.
I have a feeling the Polar Vortex claimed whatever remained of my mother’s Tropical Garden.
Here’s the definition of Rustic from the Google dictionary:
- of or relating to the countryside; rural..
- constructed or made in a plain and simple fashion, in particular..
Here is my current vegetable garden (still under construction)