House & Home

The View From The Garden: Necessity and Luxury

When I was a girl, the garden was an integral part of life and I was fascinated by it. My parents grew a very large vegetable garden with all of the usual vegetables. My dad took all of the tiny packages of seed and pieces of potatoes (these were his favorites) out there in the spring and planted them. Sometimes, I was allowed to help plant onions. I guess he thought they were large enough that I would be more inclined to plant them correctly. In my family, at that time, girls did the house things with mom, and dad did the outside things (alone, since there were only girls in my family), so being allowed to do anything in the garden was a special occasion, rigorously monitored by dad. Mom got to request that things be planted and because she was an adventurous cook, for her time, we grew things like kohlrabi in a small town in Nebraska in the 1950s.

When the harvest was ready, the females were allowed into the garden. Mom picked early and there were many days when a bushel of peas or beans were waiting for the attention of my sisters and me after breakfast. My mother and I spent the summer “putting up” the produce from our garden. We put it into the deep freeze, into canning jars, into jam jars, into pickle jars, and into a special room in the basement for canned goods and potatoes and onions. We ate that food all winter. [expand]

We also ate that food all summer. We ate food in season. For several weeks, we ate fresh peas every day and then green beans every day and there were many days when we ate tomatoes three times a day. There was always a jar of cucumbers and onions in dilute pickling brine on the table. In the spring, my father and I ate radish sandwiches and he ate green onions with them. We ate potatoes from the garden at two meals a day. And mom was free to experiment with things like tomato jam and dilled beans and all of the kinds of pickles she could think of.

Flowers in the garden were mom’s domain. The summer conditions in Nebraska are harsh but there were flowers that did well. We grew zinnias that did not get a fungus and gladiolas that stood straight up with no staking and produced huge spikes of flowers. There were tulips in the spring that were actually fragrant. We had two tea roses under which we actually put the used tea leaves. I don’t know why, but they probably helped the pH of our clay soil and the roses did very well with no black spots and no spraying. When “the women” thinned their German Iris, they shared them and we had 32 different varieties. These were “the splurge” in the flower department at our house.

One summer, someone gave my mother a fuchsia: very exotic for that time and place. She planted it in a place protected from the scorching Nebraska summer sun and we tended it all season.

The grown-up relatives in my family grew up in the Dust Bowl/Depression in Nebraska so the garden was not only a necessity but a luxury…it meant the family would have food. I learned about the necessity and relished the luxury. [/expand]

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