by Vincent Cardegin
Three years ago I could mow the lawn in peace, with a weekly expectation that it would take me less than two hours to finish. But then my wife started watching gardening shows Have you seen Victory Garden? Her’s is nothing like that. Have you seen the movie Labyrinth? Yeah, like that.
I was amazed at how quickly, when I wasn’t looking, she tilled three-by-three-foot squares around the backyard, and a few sixteen-foot cubics bordering those, and the big one, 256 square-feet framed by landscape logs right in the middle of behind our house. (I bought the logs, but I didn’t know why. I was kind of hoping she wanted me to build a cabin for her dogs.)
Suddenly she was growing tomatoes and bell peppers of many varieties, as well as sweet corn, potatoes, squash, jalapenos and chilis, and the panoply of herbs we use when making tomato sauce (gravy) for spaghetti.
Oh, I used to grow a garden, because my mother did. She mainly grew tomatoes, but I planted dent corn (what cereal and chips are made from) okra, and black-eyed peas. I don’t really like those peas, but they and okra grow very well in the sandy ground of our south-eastern peninsula. Okra especially thrives without much water, and it’s a chore to keep checking to make sure to harvest them before they grow over three inches, otherwise they get woody.
If gumbo means okra, and it does to me, I turned everything I cooked into gumbo back then: Ramen gumbo, Cup-a-Noodles gumbo, fried rice gumbo, homemade beef stew gumbo, and every can of Campbell’s soup became gumbo. (Gumbo chili with or without beans is not very good, so don’t bother.) I made gumbo scrambled eggs, gumbo grits, and gumbo hash browns. I cubed boiled okra into salads and sliced them for sandwiches. And occasionally I made a pot of black-eyed peas and ham, which I ate but didn’t really care for, but it became yummy when I turned it into gumbo. I even added dent corn to some of those recipes, but mainly I ate those cobs whole, fresh from the barbeque. It’s nothing like sweet corn; dent tastes like…well, like corn flakes.
And all that was from one little garden, four by twelve feet.
But now I can identify with my father’s dinner quip on many nights long ago about his wife’s hobby, that “Yes, these dollar tomatoes taste good!” In those days, store-bought tomatoes were about fifty cents a pound, and he was expressing his amusement and annoyance with how much fertilizer and dirt cost, as well as trays of starter plants. However, my dad never complained about the yard. Mom always grew her tomatoes next to the house, and so her garden never interfered with mowing.
My wife went cuckoo with planting without any thought to the logistics of lawn care. Just in the backyard there are 32 corners and 8 round things I have to navigate. Then there are 32 sides and 8 round things I have to trim. And I don’t know how many poles for hanging pots and bird feeder/houses are out there, but there are 250 feet of various lightweight fencing that I have to be careful around, mower and trimmer. And there are gnomes! And other yard art! I am now sympathetic to the groundskeepers of Lowry Park, especially back in the 60s. (Is there still a Fairy Land?)
I’ve always wanted to replace my lawn with Astro Turf and not have to mow at all, but it was too expensive. I just looked it up, and it’s worse now than a few years ago. The cheapest is 5 bucks a square foot. But if you want it to last 15-20 years, you have to buy the 20 bucks a square foot kind. Not going to happen. But that’s what I’d like to do, and as a joke I’d replace some of my wife’s veggie plants with fakes, just to see how long it takes her to discover that those bright red tomatoes and glowing yellow banana peppers are plastic.
It now takes me six hours to mow the lawn. That includes two hours of breaks, which have increased over the last two years. I fully expect it to take me seven hours next summer.