I was bemoaning the fact that so many of my beautiful pumpkin blossoms weren’t turning into pumpkins, and my garden-mates Morgan and Abby set me straight. It turns out, every squash plant (pumpkins, zucchinis, acorn squash, and such) will produce BOTH male and female flowers.
The male flowers will never mature into squash. Their only job is to pollinize, that is, fertilize, the female flowers. Once the bees are done with them, they just shrivel up. They are useful, however, for fancy ‘stuffed squash blossom’ dishes, where you put rice and meat into the flower and then tie it up and bake it. Yum!
The female flowers, once their blossoms are pollinated, will fatten up and become a squash. Ain’t life interesting?
I didn’t know any of this! I love that I am still learning things about gardening.
Finally! After months of anticipation, we have seeds and a plant in the ground at the allotment. The weatherman has promised we will have no more frost this spring, so it was time to commit.
Auntie Bridgett went along with me, though she is not a gardener; there is too much mud involved for her liking. But she wanted to draw the garden, keep me company, and make notes. That’s what she does.
We bundled up against the chilly morning, carrying the seeds, the lavender plant, and nifty home made garden markers along in a bag. We chatted briefly with other gardeners. After so long in isolation we long for companionship, but we were all there on our own missions. The camellia tree had given us more blossoms, and I realized it may be a good idea to trim it back just a wee bit, to give us more space and sunlight. All good relationships need a little space, right?
The soil was very lumpy, and I spent a lot of time crumbling the clods between my fingers, making a smoother bed for my seed babies. I sprinkled the seeds in and patted the soil gently, laying down a bit of of decomposed straw over the top to keep them damp.
When my back was tired and my fingers were numb, it was time to lock the tools back in the shed and head out. Light rain is predicted for a few days, and should get the seedlings started. I am so excited for what happens next!
Friday was my 65th birthday, and I had made a short list of things I wanted to do. I got to do (very nearly) all of them!
I came down to breakfast to find my Hundred Acre Wood wishing me a Happy Birthday, and Auntie Bridgett and I did Duolingo french practice, like always. Grandpa Nelson came down and I got lots of birthday hugs. It was predicted to be a rainy, blowy day, but it wasn’t going to keep me locked in.
Auntie Bridgett and I walked the mile or so down to Pix Patisserie on Burnside. Along the way, we found a huge pile of tiles, apparently the leftovers from a going-out-business shop, neatly piled on the curb. On top were three that would be perfect stepping stones for our allotment! Auntie Bridgett hefted them into a strong canvas bag we had taken ‘just in case’ and we proceeded to the patisserie.
I have intended to try some of their pastry since we moved to Portland, but it has always felt too far away, or was too crowded. During Covid, they have installed two refrigerated, high-end vending machines that allow folks to shop for pastries or fancy canned goods with zero contact! Along the way I had a nice phone chat with my niece Lyn, who was born on my 11th birthday.
We enjoyed the adventure, being mindful of the guard-gnomes, of course. Inside the little automat doors were RBG masks, a canned survival kit (with waterproof matches, three yards of cord, and other useful things) and canned mussels in vinegar, to name a very few. But we were there for the pastries!
After reading the illustrated menu, I chose the Jane Avril almond cake with raspberries, and Auntie Bridgett got the Amelie, a chocolate and hazelnut delight. We placed these in a second bag and walked home, battling the rain and the gusty winds.
We dropped off the heavy stepping stones and ate grilled cheese and onion sandwiches for lunch. Then I opened my presents! A delightful Shakespearean insult mug from your family and a jigsaw puzzle made from one of Gia Whitlock’s wonderful paintings, from Auntie Bridgett.
After some rest, we had the second part of the day. I will tell you about that tomorrow!
It is still too wet and chilly to plant seeds in our garden plot, but there is a lot of work to be done, anyway.
The City of Portland has 57 of these Community Gardens, in a program that has been running since 1975. When you sign up to have a plot, you pay between $20 and $220, depending on the size of your plot, and promise to help maintain the whole garden, donating a few hours during the year to keep things in good shape.
Our General Manager, Ruth, sent out an email alerting us to work that needs doing. Public paths need weeding and covering in burlap, to make them less muddy. Fence lines need to be cleaned up. Vacant plots need help.
Ruth described the newest weed invading the garden, the Lessor Celadine, so perfectly that I recognized it right away. It is a type of wort with pretty round leathery leaves and a bright yellow flower. It is tempting to leave it alone, but apparently it spreads like wildfire and will take over an area.
So on Monday, I put one of our trash-collecting buckets in Dickon my red wagon, put on my coveralls and gardening shoes, and trudged up to the garden. I had decided to weed one of the public paths, a ten foot by three foot section that was weedy and goopy with mud.
Enjoying the silence, solitude and physicality of it, I sat right on the ground and dug in. I found the Bermuda grass stolens and dug them out, as well as the hated Lessor Celadine. An hour and a half later I was muddy and worn, but very, very happy. The path looked better, too.
I met a fellow gardener when I went to fetch the old coffee bags we use for covering the paths, and we chatted as we rested. Using Dickon the wagon to carry the heavy burlap, I covered the path with recycled coffee sacks.
Then I packed up my weeds and trudged home, feeling every one of my 65 years. But I knew a hot shower and rest would set me right.
I am so happy in the garden! Being peacefully alone while being part of a decades-old community is wonderful.
So far, I have gotten to be here in the spring (for just a week), and the summer (for two months) and the trees and bushes keep changing and growing.
In the spring it was very wet and cool, with only the blooms of azaleas and rhododendrons making big wads of color amid the dark and damp. It seemed like the wet dirt was napping, just waiting for sunshine.
And it’s a good thing the ground was so damp, because we haven’t had rain for two months, except for a short, dramatic thunderstorm. The larger trees are doing well without help, but we see a lot of people out watering their gardens to make sure the plants stay healthy. Summers weren’t always this dry, but because of climate change we are seeing more drought conditions here.
Over at Sunnyside Environmental School, there are watering crews that come in once a week. They have even made signs which crack me up!
This part of town also has lots of food growing. There are apple trees weighted down with fruit and even grapes hanging on fences.
I love sharing my new city with you. I hope your new year at school goes well.
This week, I have been thinking about the plants in my life. Plants that have been special me and my family, particularly my Momma, Billie Evans. Momma was a real gardener. She knew the names of every plant, and if she didn’t know, she looked it up or asked Mr. Bishop, who ran the nursery around the corner from our house in Manhattan Beach.
Momma had a few plants she was emotionally attached to. There was a large hydrangea, a full 8 feet in diameter and higher than her head, that she loved. It held pride of place in our front yard. It had been a wedding gift from her former landlady, Mrs. Ray, in 1947. She loved that plant so much. But she loved Daddy more, and when he had to move it to put in an extra driveway for the trailer he was building, she took cuttings and made the most of it.
When my parents retired and moved to Lompoc, their yard was a mass of overgrown wild mustard. It was weeks of work just to have bare ground to start with. But over the years Daddy nurtured his vegetables and fruits, his berry vines and green beans, and Momma grew her flower garden. Daddy shopped for the best seedlings; Momma got cuttings from friends.
When she’d walk you around the garden, she’d say,”That’s one of Nadine’s roses, isn’t it doing well?” “Those geraniums are from Mr. Tucker…he says they are so old, you can’t buy them anymore!” She loved her plants, but that was really an extension of the love she had for people in her life.
When Momma couldn’t live by herself anymore and we needed to sell the house in Lompoc, I made sure to take cuttings from every geranium. They thrived in my garden in Salinas and are now in pots on our patio in Portland. They, like Momma’s garden, are an extension of the love of these people. The lilies that grew so tall by her lemon tree are now lighting up a corner of her Grandson David’s yard in Salinas.
In 2012, the city of Lompoc invited Momma to have her garden on their city garden tour. Hers was listed as “The Friendship Garden” because the majority of her plants came from friends. People came by and visited all day. She was frail by that time, but she was so happy to walk everyone around and tell them about her garden.
Now, here in Salinas, there is a new generation of family getting attached to plants. My granddaughter Liza was born just 5 years ago. On the day she was born, a friend and I moved a small lemon tree from an awkward spot in her family’s backyard to a better place by the fence. That is Liza’s lemon tree. She knows the story of it and tells me about it when we play out in the yard.