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Heart Healthy Gardening

August 10, 2010

Years ago, I and my then husband (wasband) had enormous gardens. They were magnificent things. The only trouble was, I worked full-time. I had four children. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know they are a tremendous amount of word.

Fortunately for me, I had to do little of the planting and hoeing. My duties didn’t kick in until it was time to harvest. This meant picking that first tomato, that first squash and waiting patiently for enough okra or green beans to feed my large family. Those days did not last. Before long, there was a mountain of squash, buckets of zucchini, bushels of beans and a small truck load of corn waiting to be eaten or prepared for storage. I gave food away to anyone and everyone we knew. There was no spare time to tend to the prolific veggies, so the freezing and canning necessary to avoid wasting all this wonderful food had to be done at night, late at night. For days and days, I stayed up until the wee hours chopping, snapping, shelling, shucking and blanching. When it came time to eat, I threw sandwiches together and dreamed about quarter-pounders with cheese. The last place I wanted to be when I got hungry was the kitchen. I was sick of the kitchen. Besides, it was a colossal mess for days on end.

This year for Mother’s Day, my son in law built me two lovely small raised flower beds. The first, he built around the mailbox. The other, just off the front porch. While he finished building, the girls took me shopping for plants to put in them. I picked out bright orange marigolds, white petunias and a few orange and yellow lantana for the one around the mailbox. The flowers matched perfectly our Tennessee Volunteer theme!

I picked the same flowers for the larger box by the porch, as well as a couple of dahlias and one poblano pepper and one tomato plant. I also selected a few herbs for pots on the porch. Even with my physical limits, I figured I could handle the care and eventual harvest from such a small garden. Besides, it was mostly flowers anyway.

For a couple of months, we just enjoyed the beauty of the flowers and using the fast growing herbs in our cooking. I especially loved the smell of the herbs after a rain. On dry days, all it took was a touch to fill the air with the sweet smell of basil, or to catch a whiff of the citrus-sy lemon thyme. In no time, the oregano was cascading over the sides of the pot. The pepper plant grew over three feet tall. The rosemary was a small shrub. The parsley fanned out, creating a wispy backdrop. The lone tomato plant, grew strong and healthy, like an oak tree among a small forest of flowering dogwoods. It’s spindly little stems turned to limbs. After a while, I had to prop up a limb of the tomato plant. Then I had to prop another, and another and another, until my lovely little flower bed was full of large sticks used as props and this one tomato plant that would eventually completely take it over.I would remember why we had always used tomato cages before.

What a joy it all has been. It has required no more care than an occasionally watering and the picking of a pepper, handful of herbs or absolutely perfect tomato. The only nuisance has been those beautiful little green caterpillars that seems to like tomato plant leaves, stems and blossoms as much as we like the fruit the plant will eventually bear if I can keep the plant free of them.

Though I sometimes daydream of the large organic garden next year; of having enough to share and even sell to the folks driving by on their way to the lake, I am content to have that truly vine ripe slice of heaven on a sandwich or as the perfect accompaniment to our dinner. The herbs have graced many a fish and dish and homemade pizza, making anything they are cooked with seemed somehow healthier. Yhe peppers numbered only six, so were quite precious and special when we ate them.

This garden has fed my heart this Summer. I have had much larger gardens, but none have fed me in quite this way. It has been like so many things, that in their smaller, limited versions, have caught my full attention and revealed the fullness of life. I’ve eaten countless delicious tomatoes throughout my fifty some odd years. Never has one tasted as these have. I have planted flowers of all kinds before.  I’ve been given flowers as gifts and paid insane amounts of money for them. None have been prettier. These, have been just enough. Just right.

Today, I trimmed a couple of bushes and watered my little “garden.” I discovered three striped caterpillars who had been devouring the parsley. I found one of the little green ones building a cocoon. He was attached to a stem of the pepper plant. I had to ask Lee to take them away from my precious plants, far, far away. I came in sweaty, dirty, exhausted and spent. I was short of breath and too tired to take a shower. Yet, I recovered quickly.

I thought back to last Summer. I could not have done any of this then. Last year, I rarely left my bedroom. Not only was I unable to care for plants, I couldn’t spend much time in the heat, I was afraid to. Every ache, pain and twinge was terrifying. There were a lot of them, just a year ago. I have come a long way. Yes, this is the perfect garden. It has been the perfect size, bearing the perfect fruit. It was the perfect mother’s day gift

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