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SUBURBAN SUSTENANCE

            Anyone who is the slightest bit attuned to fashion trends in horticulture knows that the kitchen garden is hot.  Five years ago, major shelter magazines devoted little or no space to vegetable gardening or home fruit growing.  Now both are front-page news.  At the Philadelphia Flower Show, where the theme was gardening in the next century, edible and ornamental plants mingled with wild abandon.  Ten years ago I had a neighbor who specialized in voluptuous roses and brawny kohlrabi.  At the time I thought he was highly unusual.  Now I know he was a fashion pioneer.

            Every year I try to grow something edible in the midst of my flowers.  Last year it was sugar snap peas and heirloom tomatoes.  The sugar snaps were delicious, but the heirloom tomatoes were disappointing.  I chalked up the failure to a low rate of pollination, a high incidence of innattention and the damage done by a lengthy drought.  I may also have selected the wrong cultivar for my particular circumstances.  This year I have picked a different variety and recommitted myself to diligence in its upkeep.  I will do my level best to surround my ‘Brandywine’ plants with bee-friendly flowers to encourage pollination.  I will mulch my tomatoes within an inch of their lives, and hand-water them through the worst of the expected summer drought.  If, despite my best efforts, ‘Brandywine’ turns out to be less fruitful than I hope for, I will abandon heirlooms and invest in a few ‘Big Boys’ next year.

            We had a strawberry patch in our first garden, because I am a hopeless romantic about strawberries.  It was the one and only time that my husband participated in bed digging, and it put him off that particular pastime forever.  Despite the double digging, zealous rock removal and soil amendments perpetrated on that bed, our strawberry crop was disappointing.  I developed an inferiority complex about growing strawberries that lasted for nine years.  This year, however, I have decided that it is time to face my fears.   I will invest in a terra cotta strawberry pot, fill it with a mix of potting soil and compost, install new, everbearing strawberries, and plop the pot down in the sunniest spot, even if that spot is in the middle of my driveway.  I’ll just have to remember to avoid hitting it with my car.

            All the gardeners in the glossy magazine spreads grow scarlet runner beans, which have exceptional edible and ornamental properties.  Since I am a decidedly matte person perpetually pursuing glossiness, I have decided that it’s time that I too grow scarlet runner beans.  My beans will be trained to grow up the trellising that is already in place on the side of my back porch.  The red blossoms will look wonderful with the yellow trumpet vine flowers that are already there, and it will be easy to pick the beans.  From a lazy person’s perspective, scarlet runner beans are wonderful.  You can pick them young and eat them as fresh vegetables, or you can let them age on the vines and use them as dried beans for winter soups.  This way I can go on vacation and prepare for next winter at the same time.  Maybe I can be even more efficient and give away attractive bottles filled with my dried scarlet runner beans next Christmas.  After all, that’s what the people in the glossy magazine spreads do.

            In my last garden I was the Queen of the Raspberries.  That would have been more of an accomplishment if raspberries didn’t practically grow themselves.  I started with one black raspberry cane and ended up with about twenty, which was enough to give us quite a respectable black raspberry harvest, with enough leftover for the birds.  I become extremely bird-friendly on the days when it is too hot to pick raspberries.

            I probably won’t grow raspberries in this garden because of space restrictions.  I may grow blackberries, because the weedy things are already here, and, at this moment, growing them seems easier than trying to eradicate them.  The flowers are beautiful in spring, and the berries have an interesting flavor.  I will feel no guilt at all about hacking back any unwanted canes, because I know that every time I hack one back, two more will spring from the ground in its place.  Eventually I will have a blackberry problem, but there are many worlds to conquer, both horticultural and otherwise, before that happens.  Who knows, by that time, I may have worked out a scheme to make millions of dollars selling blackberry jam over the Internet, proving once again that it almost always pays to mulch your beds and remain optimistic.

 



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