Sunday, April 14, 2013

A life out front

I've dug a lot of sod in my days. I grew up with a huge vegetable garden, a small vineyard, and flowers galore. My father grew the food and the grapes, my mother grew the flowers, and I grew into a person who has planted both everywhere I have lived, until I moved to New York. I planted cosmos in the front yard of a summer rental in Olympia Washington. I turned a rocky Maine field into a flourishing vegetable garden. I transformed my Portland, OR front lawn into a sea of perennials and grew lush Pacific Northwest vegetables in the back. (Artichokes! Fennel! Year-round brassicas!) I had a little patio outside my first NYC studio apartment. I grew things out there in pots, but I missed digging my hands deep into the ground. After that I was a fire escape gardener for the next 8 years, until Pam and David offered me a spot in their back yard, and last year I planted a real garden for the first time in a decade. Kale, tomatoes, arugula, carrots, beets, potatoes, and finally, in the late Fall, hoping they would over-winter without being dug up by the neighbors' cat who uses my garden as a litter box, garlic.

Potatoes and garlic. It took me til my 5th decade to grow them. (Never Done!) Mysteries under the soil that make you wish for one of those glass floors they have on coral reef tour boats, not that it would do any good in the soil. But they both worked, and now the garlic is standing tall in its bed. I've since moved across the street from Pam and David, and need only cross the street to farm. But this week, after many emails and phone calls, I received permission from my landlords to dig up the grass on this side of the street. The back of the house is dark, shaded by the apartment complex behind us, and the fig trees in the yard. I will try putting some beds back there, and see what I can do without a great deal of sun. But the front; the front gets perfect sun.  I don't love growing vegetables in the front of a house. Dogs piss on them, kids pick them, cars putt putt exhaust on them.  But flowers are another story. And so with great joy, I dug up two areas of the front lawn, knocking the dirt off the clumps of sod, and tossing them aside to dry so I can knock the rest off. I took out all my seed packages (mostly from Fedco, where I used to work, and where several of my closest friends in Maine now work) and started to picture the flower beds I can create this summer. Normally I would place bulbs there—perennials—but I didn't yet have permission to garden last Fall, and so my bulbs will stay in their bags for another year, and hopefully still be vital by first frost.

As I dug, I talked on the phone with my mother's oldest friend. Brooklyn friends walked by with their kids, coming from the soccer fields. Music drifted down the street from the open house at the Cambodian temple up the block. And I had a reason to be outside, in front of the house, a part of the fabric of the neighborhood, turning over the dirt, shovelful by shovelful, already seeing the future in flowers.

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