“Because I’m an old Southern woman, and we’re supposed
to wear funny-looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the
dirt.”~Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias
I first started gardening when I was a young boy, visiting my grandmother
O’Quinn’s house during the summer. My grandmother, or Me’mom
as I called her, never, ever, let me inside the house during the daytime.
She would bring lunch outside to the back porch, Coca-Colas and popsicles
could be found in the old Sears-Roebuck fridge that stood as a sentinel
tucked into a corner of the boathouse, and of course if I needed to pee,
I was told to find a tree. Most of the time I could be found on the dock,
pulling crab traps or fishing for sheepshead with fiddlers around the
barnacle-encrusted pylons. However, every now and again, when it was hot,
the fish weren’t biting, and I really just wanted to come inside
for a nip of air conditioning, I would sneak inside.
I’d usually find Me’mom leaning over a steaming pot of lima
beans or collards for the night’s dinner or tomorrow’s supper.
The kitchen was a mélange of wonderful smells. A mingling of sweet
cornbread, the acetic sting of canned chutney, and topped off with the
meaty aroma of the pot roast in the oven. As I would slide open the kitchen
door, Me‘mom would look over her shoulder and say, “You need
something to do?” Usually I’d just shrug my shoulders and
try to mosey into the den when I would hear her say, “Let’s
go outside and see what’s going on in the garden.”
We’d go outside and on the way, she’d grab a basket, put on
a big hat, and give me one of those funny-looking garden forks. It was
that moment, with garden fork in one hand and trowel in the other, that
I was inducted into the world of gardening, becoming Me‘mom’s
apprentice. That’s when I also learned my first lesson of gardening:
Weeds must be pulled out by the roots.
This was dogma.
Me’mom would admire her tomatoes and cucumbers, pull off random leaves,
identifying pests and have me underfoot pulling weeds. By eight years
old, I could identify more weeds than anything else: dandelions, nut sedge,
dollar weed, crab grass, white clover, chickweed, purslane, thistle, and
pigweed, just to name a few. From those first days of weeding and mulching,
I learned about when vegetables were ripe, what type of sun exposure is
good for a vegetable garden, different soil types and proper drainage.
My pinnacle of gardening was actually when I was a freshman in college,
and my mother, also an excellent gardener and now my go-to for all gardening
questions, rented one of the little garden plots by the airport. I dug
deep, no pun intended, back to my agriculture tutelage with Me’mom
to prepare the little plot. I pulled all the weeds, amended the soil with
topsoil and peat moss, then finally added a nice layer of mulch to deter
weeds. Mom and I laid out a grand garden of raised beds with one side
consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and a trellis of peas. On the
other side we planted flowers for picking, including a variety of zinnias,
daisies, and a row of sunflowers.
Even through medical school and residency, I always took care of my yard
and had a little plot of vegetables in a sunny corner. Even if I was coming
off of a 36 hour-straight shift in the hospital, it was nice to walk around
the yard and decompress. I always felt a sense of accomplishment looking
over a newly mowed lawn or seeing the first blooms on a tomato plant.
These days, I live out at the north end of the island, so anything I grow
becomes deer food regardless of fences, nets, surveillance, sonar, radar,
unmanned drones—you name it I’ve tried it to keep the deer
from eating my plants. Yet, I still enjoy working in my yard.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of physical
activity per week. Gardening can help satisfy this requirement. It has
both mental and physical health benefits. The planting, mulching, pruning,
and all of the other aspects of gardening increases heart rate and allows
for some strength training. Mental benefits include getting outside, communing
with Mother Nature and just letting everything else go.
Gardening should be enjoyable. Start with something small, like a small
vegetable garden or flowerbed and expand based on your ability to maintain
your garden without causing anxiety. A good friend of mine walks around
her yard every night with a glass of wine in one hand and her pruners
in the other. When she is out of wine, then she is done for the evening.
Don’t get upset if something fails. My mother’s philosophy
is to rip it out and try something else.
Going to Ace Garden Center is a great place to get advice on what to plant
and where to plant it. And for the record, deer will try everything. They
might not eat something down to the root, but they will taste everything.
I mean EVERYTHING. Gardening is about being able to just get outside and
enjoy. A little dirt under your nails at the end of the day is a good thing.