On any given sunny day, I can be found tending my garden, all 4 feet by 8 feet of it. My garden box, also known as a raised bed, lies in a once vacant lot, nestled between two apartment buildings in New York City. In the valley between them, I plant tiny seeds and hope they turn into delicious vegetables. Today’s photo is one of the three sunflowers I managed to grow last year, complete with a rather curious bumble bee hanging on. It was great, seeing that bumble bee. It meant that the “city girl” must have done something right in order to get one of Nature’s wild creatures to stop and check out things.
As for the name, well that also came about because of last year. I didn’t understand the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. I planted 4 of them, and all 4 took to root rather nicely. I also didn’t know that I was supposed to prune them. By August, all 4 plants were well over 6 feet tall and still growing. They blocked the light from most of the other plants I tried to grow. Those tomato plants looked like small trees. I spent a few weeks trying to find out what I did wrong. Why were my tomatoes looking like something out of Day of the Triffids? Now, I know better. This year, they look nice and normal.
As I was clearing and preparing “phase 2” of my garden (read raised garden bed #2, same size, that I was granted by the administrators of the community garden I’m always in), I started to think of my ancestors. I found myself wondering if any of the original women of my line tended gardens in Africa. As I raked the weeds out of the soil, I wondered. If they had them, what did they plant? As I added manure and minerals to the soil, I wondered. Once they were slaves in a strange, cruel place, did their masters allow them to have vegetable gardens to supplement the meager supplies they must have received? As I carefully dropped seeds into holes I made with my finger, I wondered. Did they forage for wild plants, mushrooms, nuts, berries, fruits, and herbs? All would have been plentiful in wooded areas near a plantation in South Carolina. As I covered my box with a plastic cover to keep Ghetto Squirrel, Kit Kat, and Ray Raccoon out until I could build a fence, I wondered. Did any of them create magic by planting seeds?
I know later generations of women in my family did. My great-great grandmother had a full-sized garden on her own land. They say Hibernia Rowe was a tiny brown-skinned woman, probably less than 5 feet tall. She was also known in her neighborhood as an herbal doctor of sorts, having been taught by one of her own parents. So, do I get my love of plants and need to put my hands into dirt from her? Perhaps. On more than one occasion, my grandmother has looked me sharply in the eye and looked deep as if she was looking for something, only to nod her head and call me Miss Bunya, what people would have called her grandmother in the 1930s.
As I was cleaning up after preparing the box, I took a look at the packages of supplements that I had sprinkled over the soil. Both the blood meal and the bone meal came from a porcine source. This little fact made me laugh, since pigs are inseparable from my family history. My more recent ancestors certainly owned and ate them. Today, if you connect them with my folk, you might get accused of making an insensitive generalization about southern living. So, even though I’m a highly educated northern vegetarian, I still find myself connected to pigs. Definitely worth a laugh or two.
I’ve heard that some people don’t want to be reminded of their southern roots. Not me. I applaud them. I also applaud the women who found a way to create a little magic so far from their African homes. And I’m thankful that I have the freedom to think about whether I should plant beans or lima beans. It is not about survival for me, just a hobby that will eventually make a nice dinner for my family. I think about those women, and I wonder. Were any of them like me?