Friday, August 16, 2013

August Garden

          For the past twenty years the end of summer has found me turning my back on my garden to search out my lunch tote, hunt out the best deals to stock my classroom, and practice wearing real shoes again.
Gone is my heady optimism in May when I pictured the riot of herbs and vegetables that would, without a doubt, emerge from my garden and hit our dinner table. And like every other year, August brought the reality of unused lemon balm, the basil chewed up by garden pests, the four tomatoes it took all summer to produce, and the bean vines that blanketed their trellis but refused to emit even one edible object.
Also like every other year, we returned from a week at the Cape to a yard that demanded a machete to reach the front door. Usually, we cut the grass and leave the garden to its own devices; the leaves will be falling before we know it and I have to think about going back to work.

      But for the second blissful year, retirement has changed the game plan. I have time to actually look at my garden and realize there are still worthwhile things happening there.
I put on my baseball cap with Maine across the front, spray my ankles and neck with bug repellent, and begin. The lemon balm will finally have to go; it’s been coming up for the past ten summers and for the past ten summers I’ve been unable to think of a thing to do with it other brush it with my hand as I go by, releasing its soapy citrus essence.
     The oregano came up on its own this year, and with the amnesia that winter brings, I failed to recognize it and bought more. It has evolved into the oregano that ate Cleveland; no one can consume that many salads or flavor that much chicken. I dig up half of the oregano along with all of the lemon balm. I’m on a roll now and I reach in to pull the endless weeds – crab grass requires a firm hand and twist of the wrist, like opening a jar.
     In spite of appearing at death’s door in June, the lavender has been quietly holding its own and I leave it undisturbed, but it’s time for the few remaining carrots to go. These are just embryos of carrots, tiny orange wedges only big enough for a pixie. Unlike store carrots, though, these have a strong, earthy, carrot smell that belies their minute size.
     Last is my weakness and nemesis. Anyone describing kudsu as invasive has obviously never grown mint.  Years ago I buried a big contractor’s bucket and planted the mint within it to prevent it overtaking the other plants. Instead, it has spread happily throughout the garden, everywhere but the area with the bucket. But mint will always mean summer to me. As a little girl visiting my grandparents in Oklahoma, my task before dinner was to pick the mint for our ever-present iced tea. It grew just outside the French doors of the dining room next to the hot flagstone steps. With the kitchen scissors in hand, I would open the glass and then screen doors into the late afternoon sun and step down to cut what seemed the right amount.

So next summer I’ll be do battle with it again, but sparingly, because I have to leave at least one patch for both the future and the past. 


  1. What beautiful writing, precise observation, thoughtful reflection, an end of summer snapshot vivid with patches of overgrown oregano, mint and bug-sprayed legs.


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