We spent part of January, the part where we were actually able to come to work instead of holing up in our snow covered homes, quietly passing the magazine around the office, exclaiming in hushed tones during breaks and lunch over the full color photos and the enticing captions. It was the Burpee seed catalog and I fall for its charms every year. I can also be felled by the catalogs from Jackson and Perkins and the McMurray Hatchery catalog (that is a whole other post) but every year Burpee sets me daydreaming about lush rows of Snappy Sugar Peas, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Heatwave Blend Lettuce and Camouflage Hybrid (the better to hide it in your unsuspecting coworker’s bag) zucchini. Of course bountiful mounds of various heirloom tomatoes go without saying.
I was lucky enough to learn how to garden in a 10 x 10 foot space at Kingwood Center, where the Master Gardener patiently taught us how to companion plant and weed, when to harvest and which insects to leave alone. It was a wonderful program and probably one of the best parts of my education. I’m not going to lie to you, I hated taking care of the garden on blistering July mornings, but I have wonderful memories of taking a knife and a salt shaker out as the day cooled to the smoky blues of dusk. Standing barefoot in the dirt, grazing on sun warmed tomatoes, fuzzy to the tongue snap beans and baby carrots—not those bagged, milled baby carrots we’ve all come to love, but small, intensely flavored carrots that would have been huge and sweet if only they’d been left to finish the year—was the best part of summer.
These days I still dream of warm, rich, juicy tomatoes drizzled with fruity olive oil and fresh mozzarella and a few basil leaves, but I gave up on everything else years ago. A wacky work schedule and too many drought ridden summers made successful gardening too much effort. Now though, I’m honor bound to pass along what Mr. Applegate so patiently taught me on those Saturday mornings all those years ago. At my house we’ve been talking about Sunflower Houses (sunflowers planted with runner beans to make a bio-degradable, child sized hideaway), Pizza Gardens (basil, tomatoes and peppers) and pumpkins, because I think every child should get to grow pumpkins. Also, what’s a summer morning without a joyous riot of Heavenly Blue Morning Glories, or a summer evening without the heady fragrance of roses and jasmine?
For the Pizza Garden and the Sunflower House look in Roots, shoots, buckets and boots by Sharon Lovejoy. Other books you may want to use with children are The garden that we grew by Joan Holub and Grow it, cook it edited by Deborah Lock. If you’re just learning the basics of gardening Fresh food from small spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal, All new square foot gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Don Hastings’ month-by-month gardening in the South are hugely helpful.
Now, go forth and garden!