When I was 14 I had a garden in our back yard in Louisville. I grew tomatoes, of course, mainly because everyone said you couldn’t screw them up…and they were right. I put in Broccoli, about half of which grew large enough to pick. I had zucchini, which I quickly learned would grow overnight from finger size to watermelon-size. I carried these colossal pieces of green that looked like something out of “Lost In Space” around our neighborhood begging for folks to take one, or four. After a while my mother wouldn’t even let me in the house with them. She pushed her way past the mountains of giant green zucchini strewn about the den to bar my way in the back door. I thought they were great! I mean, I wanted to send them to the starving children in Biafra – I was certain I could end world hunger with my huge squashes.
I remember having a great time with that garden, but it did take a lot of time away from running around with my friends and being a smart ass, so I only did that one year. Actually, I think by August I was getting pretty tired of the whole idea of gardening, just as things were really starting to come to harvest. But riding our bikes to the local convenience store, named “Convenient” (Wow, I bet a lot of people got paid big money to come up with that name), turned out to be a more pressing activity than cutting off a head of broccoli for dinner. So a lot of stuff just withered on the vine. Story of my life, really.
The next time I attempted a garden was when we lived in Italy. That was 2010 – 2011. We had this incredible plot of land that sat on the edge of a plateau and afforded 180 degree view of the many small towns and villages dotting the landscape until it reached the Adriatic Sea. Out our front door was an area I thought would be perfect for a garden. I could access it quickly and easily, and I could also keep an eye on it and shoo away any wild boar that happened by – and they happened by quite often. One night I heard them digging in the yard and so I grabbed my flashlight to run out and scare them away. I was in the middle of the garden when I turned on the flashlight and discovered to my everlasting chagrin that I was surrounded by about five wild boar. Two were obviously the parents of the three smaller ones. I almost put down a natural garden fertilizer, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, count yourself lucky.
We ate out of that garden all summer. There were potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini (If at first you don’t succeed…), onions, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and I think I’m forgetting one or two more. Everything came in great. It was such a pleasure to pull a carrot out of the ground and see its bright, orange color. I would push a shovel down into the earth and up would come several potatoes about the size of a, aw hell, the size of a potato! We had so many tomatoes that I started canning them. I think we had about 25 jars of tomatoes that we continued to eat well into Fall.
In addition to the garden, our property already had a lot of fruit varieties. Of course there were grapes, but the vines had been buried in 20 years of overgrowth, so they didn’t do very well that year. But the fig trees – we had three – produced the most luscious little gems. I made fig jam and we ate that stuff like it was manna from heaven – and I guess it was, really. We also had three very mature cherry trees. My Sister-in-Law, Ruth, and her husband Kurt, came to visit us and Kurt could not stop pulling cherries off the tree and popping them in his mouth.
“They’re like candy.”
But, again, it would be several more years before I attempted another garden. And that brings me to our current home at Casa Del Maya.
When we opened our B&B we had a small garden area. The only lounging area was next to our pool. It sufficed, but wasn’t really what we wanted for our guests. So last March we purchased the property next door. It has a 3-room house in the front, and the rest was reclaimed jungle. We had it cleared, except for the larger trees, put in two palapas for our guests, a couple of hammocks, and lots and lots of local plantings. We have palms, bamboo, cacti, different types of flowers, and much more. But because we did not add rooms to the B&B, we ended up with much more garden area than we anticipated. I mean, we knew the dimensions and we designed the garden, but it all turned out to be so much larger than we felt it would be.
One day we went to the vivero, or garden center, and purchased a truckload of plants for the new garden. We passed the fruits area, and decided to throw in a couple of banana trees and a papaya tree. When we got home it was almost immediately apparent where to plant them. In the rear of the new garden we built a half-bath for guests and guests of guests. Just in front is a large area we didn’t really know what to do with. So on the left side of the new, winding gravel walkway we planted the banana and papaya trees. I then threw in some watermelon seeds, and we planted some of the tops of pineapples. They are all going great guns. The bananas look strong and are growing tall, and the papaya looks very healthy. The watermelon vines have begun and the pineapples seem to be digging their space.
On the right side of the walkway is the perfect area for vegetables. We are waiting for a load of dirt to be delivered, and then I can begin my third vegetable garden. Here’s hoping.
But the real surprise is how much I am enjoying taking care of the entire garden, not just the fruits and vegetables. Every day I walk the garden, pulling a few weeds, trimming palms and other plantings (it is amazing how quickly things grow in the Yucatan). I get a lot of satisfaction from taking care of my garden, and get really teed off when those leaf-clearing ants, properly known as leafcutters, get into my garden and strip things bare. I have gone out to our lovely, green vines with yellow flowers that cover our pasillo wall to find half of the leaves gone – in just one night. So now I try to keep up with spreading the little poison that takes care of them; and I feel no guilt about it at all.
When I’m kneeling down in front of a few plants, weeding or gently trimming the overgrowth, I get lost in the moment. For a few moments at a time I am immersed in deciding if this little plant is, indeed, a weed and should be plucked out, or if it is some off-shoot of a nearby relative. I forget about money problems, family issues, the heat of summer, even my advancing age. I’ve become Chauncy the Gardener and I love it.