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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Gram's Green Thumbs

Since we seem to have entered the spring season, I have been hearing a lot about people doing gardening. Whether it's a local friend talking over dinner, or friends on social media, it's the time of year when people tell how much they are enjoying digging in the dirt. We are apartment dwellers, so we don't have a garden. I do keep thinking about doing some patio plants; we'll see what happens. Fresh ripe tomatoes do sound lovely!

All the tidbits and photos remind me of Gram and her lawn and garden. Gram often had the greenest lawn on the block. It was also one of the largest since we didn't have a driveway. The back yard had plum trees and rose gardens and fruit and vegetable patches.  My mouth is watering thinking about the rhubarb patch that always sprouted up under a stand of plum trees at the far end of the yard. It was especially good when cooked with the strawberries that grew in a huge patch a few steps away from the back door. By the way, the biggest problem we had with the strawberries wasn't bugs or birds. It was the dogs. One dog, in particular, would go outside, lay down in the grass, and pluck and eat the luscious ripe strawberries that grew like weeds in Gram's yard. She never picked any that were only partially ripe; she had discerning taste and only ate the best!

Right outside the door were numerous mint plants, again growing like weeds. Gram often planted tomatoes right beneath the back kitchen window, and one of my duties was to go outside with pliers and pull off the voracious caterpillars that wanted to eat the tomatoes before we did. There were always chives and garlic sprouting up in one of her rose beds, and they kept the rosebushes fairly insect-free. Gram had roses of many different colors - reds, pinks, whites, lavenders, even silvery ones. And her day lilies, tiger lilies, and irises were gorgeous. They were grown with benign neglect. She never dug them up and replanted them each fall like some gardeners do. Nor did she do that with her beautiful tulip and crocus bulbs. 

As I said before, Gram's grass was beautifully green. I was the mower through my youth and early adulthood, until lupus made it unwise for me to get that much sun. Every spring she would trundle around her fertilizer spreader and her aerators to get things going and green. In the summer she always threw her coffee grounds into the back yard, which encouraged aeration and fertilization by worms, and it was gorgeous. Neighbors often asked her permission to prowl in the yard after dark, because she always had plenty of good worms for fishing trips. She was always repaid with delicious rainbow trout or pike, and we loved having the freshly-caught fish for dinner almost every week. My Uncle Joe loved to catch fish, but hated eating them, so we often had his catch as well. Whenever the fish still had their heads, Gram would cut them off and have me bury them next to the rosebushes. I can say without a doubt that roses do love fish heads. Her bushes always grew several feet tall and bloomed profusely.

Something else that Gram managed to grow that nobody else I ever knew to have in Colorado was an immense Wisteria vine. It bloomed gorgeously every year. There were also lilacs and peonies and stunning red canna lilies. She also had hyacinths, snapdragons, daisies, sunshiny daffodils, and more. One half of the front of the house began the season with tulips, and then the four o'clocks began to grow. One evening when I was out moving the garden house to water the lawn, I saw and heard what I thought were hummingbirds sipping from the flowers of the four o'clock plants. Their wings moved so quickly I could hear them buzzing. They were actually a species of Hummingbird Hawk-Moths, and I looked forward to seeing them when I did my watering a couple of nights each week. They seemed to grow accustomed to my presence, and didn't fly away when I came close to them. One evening Gram was delighted to see me in the front yard, turning in circles while they flew around me. It was so beautiful I was almost in tears. "Gram! I was dancing with the butterflies!" She said, "You sure were, honey! I've never seen anything like that before."

When fall and frost rolled around, Gram never really did anything special to her garden. If there were still tomatoes, we would pick them and wrap them in newspaper to ripen. And she would bring in some geraniums so that she'd have them for the next year. This, to me, is where her green thumbs truly showed. Some of the neighbors who had geraniums would carefully dig them up and plant them in pots that would be on the kitchen windowsills. Not Gram. She would get her pots and shovel some dirt into them. Then she would break off the main stems of the geranium plants and just shove them in the soil. They would immediately take root and thrive, and the kitchen windowsills were a riot of color all winter. When spring rolled around again, she shook them out of their pots, put them in holes in the garden, and voila! The cycle began again, and Gram was back at work with her wonderful green thumbs.