Last week I had a chance to move two fairy roses from where they were dying to someplace new. One of the roses I planted in one of the front beds. The soil was okay, but it was basic Maryland soil, very clayey and needed plenty of humus and fertilizer. The other rose was going in the back yard. The soil in this back yard bed is a fabulous dark loose lovely soil that will grow anything. I didn’t need a shovel for this hole, I could have dug it with my bare hands.
That soil is the gold my mother left to me. Everytime I dig in it I remember her, more specifically I remember her in the garden, in this sturdy white dress that had sunflowers on it. It’s a memory from when I was a child. I would come home from school and not even go inside, I would head around to the back of the house because I knew that in the spring time, she would be there. I remember her hands, but especially I remember her hands covered in the soil.
When we moved to Maryland in 1969 my mother set out immediately to change the dead soil we bought with the house into a rich piece of living earth. The builders scraped away the topsoil and sold it, then built our house and laid down sod. I was too young to remember if the sod survived, but I think I remember the reseeding process.
Mom’s garden was magical to me when I was little. I remember running home from school in the spring and the fall and not even going in the house, but running around back because I knew that was where she would be, and joining her in the garden, me to play, her to continue working. My brother and I had a section one summer that we begged to be kept just dirt so we could play. We built an elaborate system of roadways, tunnels, rivers with real water and houses that we could run our vast collection of matchbox cars across, over and through. We used our Tonka toys to move that dirt around and we played out there for hours. I can still hear her shouting from the house to shake off as much of the dirt from our clothes as possible while still in the garden.
From the beginning Mom wanted an organic garden, so she used grass clippings to keep the weeds away. Not just from our yard. One of the most embarrassing recurring episodes of my growing up years, Mom used to take me and my brother out to collect grass clippings from the neighbors. The embarrassing part is that Mom would roam the neighborhood checking on who used Chemlawn or some such service and note that house. She then noted those homes where chemicals weren’t used and then almost daily during the summer we have to get in the back of the old station wagon and ride with her to pick up bags of other peoples grass clippings, we would beg to avoid classmates homes. My brother and I used to hide, lay low and throw those bags in the wagon as fast as we could. Once we got home it wasn’t a big deal to unload. The worst was if there was trash mixed in with the grass.
But all those years of spreading grass clippings over the beds and in the garden have surely done an incredible job of making the pure clay soil of 30 + years ago into some of the richest and deepest garden loam in our neighborhood. Now that she’s gone, I’m so grateful I have that treasure of gold. This summer I have come back to the garden with renewed vigor and hope, and it has repaid my attention with delicious peas, raspberries, tomatoes, lettuces and micro greens and bounteous fragrant herbs. It repaid the deer with the cucumbers, which they ate down to the ground, stalks and all after we only harvested one or two. Even now in the waning days of summer I have bushes of basil and lemon verbena I must put to good use and a ton of tomatoes that will never ripen. Planning for next years garden has already begun.