Mary's Farm | The Turning Wheel of the Garden
illustration by Katy Dockrill/i2iART INC.I’ve gardened from a very young age, starting when I was probably 6 or 7, following my father around, pushing seeds into his tilled earth–marigolds and zinnias, cucumbers and string beans, the easy ones. He separated a special area of his garden, marked with twine and small stakes.
My garden. My father knew a lot about gardening and taught me many things that, remarkably in this world of constant change, remain relevant and steady, only gentle upgrades required.
In his gardening world, we germinated the seeds first, sometimes by soaking them and then putting them into a glass jar with a wet paper towel tucked inside to give them a boost. After that, we put the sprouts either directly into the ground or into a peat pot to let them gain a little more strength before facing the real world of good earth. As is still true today, I weeded the rows with some reluctance but delighted in watching the miraculous progress of the emerging plants. At the end of every season, having enjoyed the bounty of the harvest, we dried some seeds to save for next year. And then the cycle started round again the next year. It seemed to me to be nothing less than the wheel of life, my father at the helm.
There were a few years in my life when I didn’t have a garden–most notably when I was in college and when I lived in the city–but once I had a place of my own to till, I started up my own life in the garden, and it’s ongoing, with waves of successes and failures, like the fiber of any life. The biggest garden I ever had was approximately 100 feet by 100 feet. Like the dreamer I was at that time in my life, I laid it out like a complete seed catalogue: something of everything. My husband and I were determined to provide all of our food for ourselves and managed to do that pretty well.
I still keep a garden, now a patch about the size of my living room; there’s only so much one person can eat. But I like to change things up a bit. A recent favorite is kale, popular since medieval times, especially in Germany and Africa but not so much here. I’ve become a big advocate of this Brassica. I plant kale next to the Swiss chard and they seem to get along well. My favorite way to use it is to make Portuguese bean-and-sausage soup, or along with sliced winter squash as a layer in gluten-free lasagna, not half as bad as it sounds. Kale is the easiest, hardiest, most nutritious vegetable I’ve ever grown. It grows like a tree, with many strong branches reaching out. By November, I’m still cutting off stalks from the big trunk, the leaves frilly as the hem on a prom dress. Inside, I wash them with my well water; droplets cling to the frills like diamonds. I peel the leaves off the rugged, copper-green stems, chop the greenery, and add it to the soup. Fast food, garden to table.
By late fall, these little trees, many of them stripped of their leaves, look like hulking creatures, stalking us. My dog barks warily when we go out to the garden. The plants are impervious to snow–in fact, the frost and snow sweeten the leaves.
Maybe it’s the constancy of the garden, the way it stays familiar, that keeps me there. I think my father would have liked to add kale to his garden, a delicious and manageable upgrade.
Edie Clark’s latest book is What There Was Not to Tell: A Story of Love and War, available this summer. Order your copy, as well as Edie’s other works, at: store.YankeeMagazine.com/store or edieclark.com