Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Garden at Antler Manor

Please click to enlarge and read.

I was born in 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor. During my early childhood, everyone who had dirt had a Victory Garden. Better than that, my Grandparents Herndon lived in the country and Grandpa planted a miracle vegetable garden, melon patch, grape vines, and an orchard that contained every kind of fruit that was grown in California in those days. So, no kiwi, but cherries and peaches and all of those wonderful things. He had a nut tree that had two additional kinds of nuts grafted on, so that you only needed the one. My grandmother grew many kinds of flowers and planted a different kind of mint under each of the outdoor faucets and then let the faucets drip all summer long (mint requires lots of water and shade). When we had iced tea, we would pick some fresh mint and add it. When I would visit, Grandma would give me a basket and send me out to pick what I wanted to eat. One summer I lived on tomatoes, bell peppers, scallions, corn, and watermelon. Lots of watermelon.

When I planted my first garden, Richard was eight and Julie was six and we were living in a log house on a corner lot in Fairbanks, Alaska. Because there were moose antlers over the front door, we called it "Antler Manor" (in those days, we named everything; our previous abode had been a basement apartment we called "The Hobbit Hole"). The house had originally been a one room cabin, owned by a famous lady of the night. Then a kitchen was added. Then, the kitchen was sawed off and moved and a cross section with two bedrooms and a bath was stuck between the two rooms, making the original cabin the living room. Then a car port was tacked on at the kitchen end. That was converted to a three car garage, and that eventually transformed into a large bedroom.

The yard was rather big, as Fairbanks yards go, and when we moved in had been allowed to run riot for several years. I started to pull weeds and my neighbor and friend, Gloria, came running across the street to tell me that those were chamomile and lamb's quarters! Free food. Thanks to Gloria we had fresh lamb's quarters in our salads or steamed with vinegar all summer. I froze pounds of them, and in the winter we had those steamed or added to soup or stews. When the seeds dried, I ground them and added them to flour, making the best "buckwheat" pancakes I ever ate. And lots of chamomile tea.

However, I did take a large section of the yard and plant it in vegetables. The first time I rototilled it, Julie's puppy, Samantha, rolled the earth all flat, so before we could do anything else we had to build a fence to keep her out. Then we spaded the earth and planted the garden. We had corn and tomatoes and two kinds of spinach and radishes and broccoli and cabbage and cauliflower and beets and carrots and turnips and cucumber and lettuces and onions and I don't remember what all else. The regular fence was chain link, and I planted peas all along that, which gave us a wealth of flowers followed by wonderful peas. There were so many I put up a sign inviting people to pick them as they passed; no one took undue advantage of it, lots of neighborhood kids ate them as snacks.

Julie and Richard snacked directly out of the garden, as did all of their friends, and I. At meal time I would give them a plastic sand bucket and send them out to pick what they wanted. Never had a problem getting them to eat their vegetables.

And the zucchini? Since it was my first garden ever and I had no idea what I was doing, I planted two hills of zucchini. I could have fed the entire state that summer. We had it raw in salads. We had it cooked with tomato. We let them grow big and stuffed them. We froze them and used them all year in zucchini bread. I gave them away. People would see me coming and turn and run.

A few years after that I read a joke in Reader's Digest about a small town where no one ever locked their cars except during the summer. You had to lock them in summer, or you would come out of the barber shop to find your back seat full of zucchini. Now why, I wonder, didn't I ever think of just putting them in someone's car?


J said...

That's too funny! Can you imagine the police report on that one? Ha!

If only tomatoes were as prolific as zucchini, I would be sure there is a god.

I wish I had known the Grandparents Herndon. Sounds like a fun place to be a kid.

Gina said...

My grandparents, when they were still gardening, had the same issues with zucchini, as well as swiss chard, which they couldn't pay anyone to take.

Maya's Granny said...

J. Your great-grandparents Herndon did have a great place for a kid to hangout. Loved me deeply, fed me well. Told wonderful stories and let me swim in the irrigation canal.

Gina, well, you couldn't pay me to take Swiss chard, either. It's one of those things -- you like it or you don't, and I don't.

J said...

I realized later that my Great Grandmother Herndon I did know...just not in the farming days, which is what I meant in my comment. :) So I'm glad I got to know her, but sorry I didn't get to hang out at the farm!

Anonymous said...

You made me smile and recall my own first "summer of zucchini." Friends galore sent me many recipes so I could use it all and yes, I have made a zucchini cholocate cake. :)

Maya's Granny said...

J. They lived out in the country, but not really on a farm. Grandpa worked for the irrigation district, but he had his share of his father's land (and that had been a farm) and he had his orchard and garden and vines. A kitchen garden, it's called. No big crops, no livestock.

Ms. Mamma said...

I love to read when people write about planting and growing and eating their gardens. There is something so cool about even saying the various names of the plants. It's fresh, sista!