Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Tuesday's Reflection: My Evolution as a Gardener
Charles Barr and I may be kindred spirits! Those of you who know me may laugh at the title for this post. "Evolution as a Gardener? You're not a gardener," I can hear many of you say, and you would be right or almost right. I don't need to be a gardener, for I am married to a master gardener, the head gardener in my life. However, over the years I have been the under gardener, although during our Madison years, I couldn't claim even that lowly title, for our gardening space was very confined, and even the head gardener didn't devote as much time and attention to gardening as in our other homes. Here, in our St Paul home, my gardening has been limited to suggestions and support so far, thanks to my broken ankle, but I aspire to return to my under gardener role.
What does it mean to be an under gardener? Well, in my case, it means weeding and doing chores as assigned. I actually like to weed, finding it not that different from cleaning the house when it has been neglected and from editing, which I have always preferred to writing the first draft of a current writing project. Writing the first draft is similar to planting, and, frankly, I am not so crazy about the digging process. Like Charles Barr, I am grateful to direct the digging!
As a child, I don't ever recall doing anything in a garden other tha than picking strawberries in my grandmother's massive farm garden, eating more than went into the bowl, I am sure. We didn't have what I think of as gardens in any of my growing up homes. Dad mowed the lawn and tended shrubs and plantings close to the house, and we generally had hanging baskets in the front of the house and a big planter or two, but no gardens with flowers to cut or vegetables to harvest.
My first real experience with gardening followed a trip with our school-aged children to the living museum of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts where I interacted with some of the knowledgeable re-enactment actors portraying the pilgrims who had settled there in the 17th century. I was intrigued by the herb garden and their use of herbs. When I asked what herbs they used in cooking, they were quite surprised, telling me herbs were for healing and other medicinal purposes. They stayed in character, faithful to their colonial time period. That encounter led me to a wonderful book by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead Herbs, Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes and a decision that I wanted to grow herbs.
That was all the head gardener needed to hear, and he was off and running, creating an herb garden in our small city backyard, complete with white picket fence. I loved discovering ways to use herbs or "green things," as the kids called them, in my cooking and baking. My knowledge grew, along with my library of books about herbs, but I also enjoyed the hands-on tasks, weeding and watering and harvesting and learning the proper growing conditions, and even sometimes, planting.
When we moved to Sweetwater Farm in Ohio in 1997, the head gardener was in paradise and with each passing year the number of gardens to tend grew, including space devoted to my beloved herbs. The under gardener suddenly had to be more involved and not as selective about her choice of activities or when she wanted to do them. All of a sudden I had gardening clothes and often could be seen on hands and knees weeding and weeding and weeding and weeding, and I was proud I was adding to the beauty of our sanctuary. I needed lots of instruction from the head gardener. Is this a weed? No, he would patiently say, or would remind me that something in fact was a weed, and I shouldn't ignore it.
Along with my weeding, I loved walking among the herbs with my large gathering basket, cutting lavender to dry and basil to make into pesto or lemon balm for a fresh pitcher of lemonade. I felt a satisfaction I am not sure I had felt before, and I admit I have missed that in recent years. I started thinking of myself not just as an under gardener, but as an herb gardener.
I have a nice patch of herbs here in this house planted by the head gardener, but as time goes on I will be in charge of this plot. I have used some basil and oregano, and I am happy to see the lavender is doing well. Eventually, I will put my weeding hat on, but not quite yet. For now I am happy to acknowledge the desire is there and to know that a place in the garden awaits me.
In what roles have you evolved? Are there areas of your life where you are an "under gardener" and how does that feel? Are you satisfied with that role? What role have you needed to set aside in recent years and is it something you want to claim once again? I would love to know.
My Pesto Recipe
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (I like to use a mix of basil varieties.)
6 garlic cloves
1 cup shelled walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil (GOOD) olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine the basil, garlic, and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor; chop coarsely. With the motor still running, add the combined oils in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off and add the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste. Process briefly to combine. Scrape the pesto into a bowl and cover until ready to use.
To Freeze: Scrape into a plastic freezer bag, squeezing out the air and seal. Lay flat in your freezer.
Makes approximately 2 cups.
Lemon Tea Bread (from Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead)
Makes One Loaf
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon balm
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Butter a 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the milk with the chopped herbs and let steep until cool.
Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl, cream the butter and gradually beat in the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the lemon zest. Add the flour mixture alternately with the herbed milk. Mix until the batter is just blended.
Put the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove from the pan onto a wire rack that is set over a sheet of wax paper. Pour lemon glaze over the still-hot bread. Decorate with a few sprigs of lemon thyme.
Juice of 2 lemons
Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add the sugar, stirring until a thick but still pourable paste forms. Pour the glaze over the hot bread.