Thursday, September 13, 2012

Food Not Lawns

I have a new obsession: Goodreads.  It's both a website and and iPhone app, and the bookworm in me simply cannot get enough of it.  While browsing book suggestions based on what I'm currently reading (The Velvet Rage... and Animal, Vegetable Miracle...), I ran across Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. Which got me to thinking: how on Earth did we ever get to laying down a bunch of potentially-clover-choked sod in our suburban backyards instead of planting gardens?

More than ever, as a New Yorker with very limited personal green space--I have two flower pots, thankyouverymuch--I miss the backyards I had growing up.  

home on the prairie
In my childhood subdivision, we lived on a quarter acre with a massive greenbelt for a backyard.  I'd get lost in the trees and moss and blackberry bushes for hours, making forts with my friends and dreaming of getting that tree house I always wanted Daddy to build. 

When we moved south to the Prairie, we had even more space: five acres of hay and crab grass. I remember our first season on that land very well. Dad rented a "billy goat" and a roto-tiller from the local Hertz, and we spent hours upon hours pounding and chopping and grinding the earth into submission, only to see it reclaim its wild ways a few months later. Eventually, our alpacas made good use of the space, but apart from that, our five-acre expanse--which now seems like an insane luxury--went mostly unused. Granted, Daddy's love of trees ensured we planted our fair share of paper bark maples, weepings spruce, and my personal favorite: a larch.  But save for a few flower beds and a relatively small plot we kept maintained for blueberry bushes and, eventually, some out-of-control raspberry bushes, our yard was just one massive lawn-mowing project.  Even on a gas-guzzling riding mower, it was a four-hour project just to keep the grass in check.

my front yard from 6th to 12th grade
The Northwest certainly lends itself to gardening, or so it seems.  In reality, our yards are more often seeded and mowed and edged, then decorated with beauty bark and lava rock, then sufficiently doused in moss-killing, bug-ridding chemicals.  We wage war against dandelions, clover, and fields full of daisies.  But I wonder how much more we'd gain from our green space if we gardened instead.

I distinctly remember being awestruck by two particular gardens as a child.  My next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Hatfield, was an elementary teacher and an avid gardener.  Some of my fondest memories are of her weeding around her rhubarb plants in her green rubber, leather-trimmed Sperry slip-ons.  I had no idea what rhubarb was at the time--I eventually learned it pairs well with strawberries in a pie--but I knew I loved her garden. And, for that matter, every book she ever gave me for Christmases and birthdays and for looking after her dogs while the family went away on vacation. (Mrs. Hatfield, I still read Holiday Handwriting School every time I go home. :) A perennial favorite.)

The other garden I loved so dearly was at my godfather's house.  Uncle Ron, as I called him, had a massive garden surrounded by a fence taller than me to keep out the deer.  Zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli...his was certainly a garden of plenty, and when we'd visit in the summer, we always drove home with a load of fresh produce--and usually a box of freshly-picked apples from the front yard, for good measure.  

berries from the garden, summer 2012
I realize that gardens, however big or small, require constant upkeep and effort.  But really?  If we took all that time we spent mowing and edging and fertilizing and pesticide-spraying and spent it on a garden instead...WOW. That would really be something.  Or if you really feel like cutting loose, why not pull up some of that grass and throw out a few handfuls of wildflower seeds?  We did that one year on the prairie, and the outcome was glorious.

So if you're one of my lucky friends with a little bit of a yard, think about growing a few things yourself this year.  Strawberries, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, corn... just start somewhere.  I, for my part, will try to coerce some basil into finally growing--and staying alive--in one of my little clay pots here in Harlem.  As for the apples and squash this fall, my girlfriends and I will just have to take a Zipcar to an orchard upstate if we want our bushel of seasonal delights.  I'll be sure to document all my (hopefully successful) attempts at apple pie, applesauce, and apple butter.

In the meantime, happy gardening--and say goodbye to that riding lawn mower!  

Thanks for reading! Love you all. xo

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post, Mollie! I tried gardening for the first time ever this summer. I have lots of yummy carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries, green onions, lettuce, and even a few green peppers survived. I LOVE having the fresh produce...but learned I'm not so great at the upkeep (as my garden is quickly becoming over-run with weeds). :-)