It takes a world of patience to get it like you want, vine-ripened!

Hiding coyly in the foliage.
Hiding coyly behind the foliage.


There is an old country song that I like to hear, it’s John Denver singing, ” Two Things That Money Can’t Buy, True Love and Homegrown Tomatoes”,   a person can consider themselves Blessed if they ever have either one.    Lately I have taken to leaving the garden with a fat, red tomato in hand, heading for the kitchen and lunch.  I can’t think of a faster or easier lunch than a tomato sandwich, the tomato still warm from the Sun.  People have fooled around with them for years trying to improve what can’t be made better.  The simplicity is part of the joy.  Two pieces of white sandwich bread, best on Sunbeam if you have it, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Cut a thick slice from the middle of your tomato, slap some mayonnaise on the bread, position the tomato in the center, salt and pepper to taste, put on the lid.  Holding it carefully between two hands, carry it to the back porch and eat it thoughtfully as you survey the coming afternoon.  Your first homegrown tomato sandwich will be the very best one of the year, you’ll tell the neighbors about it, casually bring it up at the grocery store while standing in line,  let the lady where you buy your books in on it.  Oh, yes, it’s called bragging, but it is also a fact that wants to be known.

You can’t buy a homegrown tomato, you might can purchase one raised by someone else, but your own takes a certain amount of planning and yes, work.  When you set that baby plant in the ground, you are already planning that sandwich.  This is called delayed gratification,  you are going to have to wait for it.  The love and care you lavish on that plant will be your reward later, that delicious sweet tanginess in your mouth could be called gratitude, you’re so glad you did just this one little thing, you planted that plant.   Towards the end of Summer you will most likely grow a little tired of them, the first twenty or so will take the edge off your craving, and it’s time to either start freezing or canning for the winter soups and sauces.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            First loves and tomato sandwiches have several things in common.  There is excitement, sweetness, and anticipation of something marvelous about to happen.  You know it won’t last forever but you don’t care, it’s what you want and you want it now, all the goodness, all the joy, all messiness that comes with both.  You know there will be other loves, and other sandwiches but not now, not right now, this is the one you’ve been waiting for, the one they sing songs about.  Well, I’ve only heard one song about homegrown tomatoes, but you get my drift.  There is certainly one thing that is a major difference, while you have to work for the tomato,  true love can only be a gift.  You can’t make it happen, you can’t work hard enough to make it bloom, you can’t take it by force or manipulation.  It is a Gift, sweet and pure, given by God through another person, or perhaps through yourself.   There is not enough gold in the World to buy a First True Love and while the years may tarnish some memories and possessions grow old and photographs fade, that first love remains as a shining light in your heart.  You can always grow another Homegrown Tomato,  there will only be one First True Love.

There is another measure of True Love that I always remember:    Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it doesn’t boast.   It is not proud, it doesn’t dishonor others.  It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always  perseveres.    Love never fails.               Corinthians  13:   4-8

A shower perks everything up.

A long row to hoe calls for mulch!

     There are times when a word or phrase trips my switch and some spark of illumination lights up my imagination.  My friend, Laurie Buchanan, furnished the last sparks with her words “practicing living”.

     Living.  Isn’t it amazing that something so basic can be so hard to describe in words?   And being so simple and basic, how tempting it is for us to make it hard to do.  It’s something I was mulling over last night, that Life is not so much an Event as it is a Journey taken step by step, as Laurie puts it “practicing” all the way.  If this is the Journey and we are practicing, the Event must be sometime and somewhere in the Future.  In this time people seem to want eveything to happen microwave fast, or at least at the speed of sound.  You pick up your cell phone, speed dial a number and the pre-made casserole goes from freezer to micro-wave in about 30 seconds.  There – supper is taken care of.  Done.  I am ever mindful of the speed of time and feel no need to cram as much as possible into my days.  In fact, I find myself culling certain things that have become bothersome or simply non-essential to my peace of mind.

    In Gardening I have discovered that I have developed a train of thought that allows subjects on and off in a leisurely fashion, no frantic or obsessive thinking allowed, no rushing to achieve results at record speed.  It’s no surprise that so many Spiritual Orders find meditative gardens so useful.  Like labyrinths, physical motion is required but frees the mind to consider other avenues of thought.  I suppose I am thinking about the practice of patient living.  I’ve never been a patient person by nature, now with one or another circumstance revising my take on life, I find that I’m really not in such a hurry.  The deadline hasn’t changed, just my attitude on how fast I want to run to get there.  Practicing patience is hard as any mother can tell you, especially under trying circumstances.  So my green beans still aren’t ready to pick at 60 days instead of the 53 days promised on the seed packet.   Will I go hungry or lose sleep?  Certainly not.  I should be able to adjust to the rhythm of Life instead of expecting Life to change it’s tune to accommodate me.  It’s just so much more fun to take the slow train and see the sights than jump the fast jet and miss all the scenery.  I reckon we’ll just keep practicing until we get it right and Graduate with Honors.

Watermelons know when to hide.

A couple of evenings ago I straightened my back, leaned against my hoe handle and surveyed the work I had done.  Two new rows of okra, the ultimate Southern Vegetable, a couple of double rows of field peas and one double row of green beans.  Feeling as satisfied as a dog with two tails, I threw a glance at the pick-up truck traveling down the road and noticed that the headlights were on.  As a matter of fact, the lightning bugs were flash-dancing in bushes and trees that surround my garden.  Still propped up by the hoe, catching my breath, I took in the field where my garden lives year after year.  That field had gone from cotton to corn, to cattle and back to corn in the last 150 years and there had always been one of my family working it. Because of the good-hearted help from my family it would be worked again. There had been some strong doubts about my putting in the garden this year.  What with wild and crazy weather conditions, droughts and my over-loaded schedule,  there didn’t seem to be a good reason to put myself through the physical workout a good garden requires.  After all here it was, already June, well into the year. I would have a few tomatoes, peppers and some onions, a salsa garden and let the rest slide.  After right at 40 years of feeding myself and others, I would back off and pay no mind to the rainfall amounts, grasshoppers, and a deep freezer with an echo inside.  It was too late.

Only a week before I had asked a young cousin to clear out my old Winter garden, do away with the ratty kale, old wooden knobs of turnips, mustard greens that would light up your mouth like a blow torch.  Here it was, first of June and I had fine patch of red clay, suitable for brick-making and laying empty under the Sun.  Around and about volunteer zinnias, poppies and watermelons had sprouted and were making the best of it, unloved and uncared for.  The tomatoes and peppers were standing bravely by their supports ready and willing to get down to business if I would only show some interest.  I moped about, kicking a clod or two, trying to ignore  feelings that were not at all common to me;  guilt and remorse.  Guilt that I had let this splendid stretch of soil sit neglected, remorse that I had not only turned down the generous offer of having it tilled but had stared into the face of the Future and said, “Ha!  If I don’t have bread I’ll just eat cake!”   Just paraphrasing a famous lady who understandably came to a very sorry end.  It was too late.

Friday morning as I readied myself for a trip into town, a doctor’s appointment, I heard in the background a sound I knew well.  The sound of a roto-tiller tearing up the ground in some industrious soul’s vegetable patch.  This was not surprising, I live surrounded by family who have the good sense to get out in the Spring and put their well-thought out plans into action, laying out rows to plant seeds of corn, beans, squash and cucumber and settle tiny tomato and pepper plants into the receptive soil.  They all had fine stands of early planted food stuffs, flourishing under the watchful eyes of their caretakers, moving closer to the anticipated days of gathering and preserving for the year ahead.  I felt very much like the fiddling grasshopper laughing at the toil of the ants. Really?  I felt envy.   It was too late.

Locking the front door I spied movement beyond the trees lining my driveway, moving closer I could see a wide strip of plowed earth.  In my garden!   Somebody was tilling my garden!  Oh, my word!  Running across the distance that separates the house and garden site, I could make out my big cousin, Mike, working steadily down the length of a row, handling that tiller like he was walking a dog.  It only took a second to see that he had been at for most of the morning.  This was not Mike’s first rodeo, he’s wrangled tillers before, he’s tilled my place nearly every single year, simply out of the goodness of his heart.  As for my heart, it nearly exploded with joy and gratitude, I had turned him down once and yet he must have realized that empty ground was wearing at my gardener’s soul.  I grabbed him, hugged the breath out of him and asked, ” Why!?”  He shrugged, shook his head and replied, ” Well, I just figured you’d be wanting it.”   I could have cried, so happy for this gift of time and effort, but no way was I going to embarrass him and possibly cause him to stop.  After I explained that I was on a time sensitive errand and couldn’t stay to help,  I shot off to town, did my stuff and was back by lunch time.  By dinner time I had laid out raised beds and marked my rows for planting.  By night fall the next day I had as good a garden as I could have wished for, courtesy of one exceptional cousin, who decided to go ahead and till up that garden anyway. I have the kind of family who doesn’t have to be asked, they see a need and undertake to fill it. As they say Blood will tell, blood is thicker than red clay. And of course, it never really is too late, a Southern garden late is so much better than no garden at all.

Last week, my employer, the owner of a very upscale garden center in North Metro Atlanta, gave me several flats of vegetable seedlings to take home.  The plants had been too long in their small containers and were pot bound and liable to produce inferior results.  Since they were mostly leafy greens and cool weather crops like Brussel sprouts and collards, our recent spate of high 80’s daytime temps made them obsolete before they even had a chance to touch the ground.  I would not waste my time and effort planting them in the garden but would not let them go untasted.  I have the Chicken Ladies Garden Club right in my own back yard and these are Ladies who live to Lunch.  They will slowly gather, chatting amiably about this subject or that, expressing ire with a burst of outrage when some especially pushy old dame decides to muscle her way to the head of the crowd.  Barney, the very officious new Maitre d, who dominates by sheer Presence alone, spent his time correcting and guiding the these Red Hat Girls closer to the new Salad Bar.  I say Red Hat Girls, of course none of these well-padded females with their matronly waddles really qualify age-wise for admission to this famous group, they are all light years too young, even though their well-modulated speaking voices and sedate conversations would have you believe they are well-seasoned veterans of the luncheon crowd.  They do, however, sport lovely red hats,  smilingly called “combs”,  tilted rakishly over the brow,  and the more elaborate the comb, why, the more admired is the possessor.   While they milled aimlessly around the Lobby area, casting the occasional eye on the Sun to catch the time, I quickly made my preparations and soon a delicious array of salads appeared just past the Pasta island.  Noting impatience in the diners and the rising tone from murmurs to moans and mumbles, I gave the salad bar a last flourish with a low-cal spritz of dressing from the water hose and waved the diners in.  Oh, where were the well-behaved ladies now!?!  Did they quietly form a line, serving to the left, did they motion their companion to proceed them to the baby spinach and mustards?  Did they stand aside to respectfully let the Oldest Member pass to the head of the line?  I am sorry to say that they behaved as socially deprived working gals do on Girls Night Out, and at Chippendales at that.  With the all the grace of  walrus seals, they heaved their over-weight selves to the top of the bar and tables in a shocking display of bad mannered greed.  Pushing, shoving, pecking and screeching they fought viciously to gain dominance on the Field of Greens, It was a hockey game going terribly right, every body got a piece of the action.  Positions were soon sorted and assigned and as they settled down to the mere voraciousness of 17-year locusts, I backed soundlessly away, afraid to disturb them at their feeding, lest they turn on me and bite the hand that fed them.  We can say that after a winter diet,  heavy in carbs and rough protiens that the new, lighter salad bar addition was a roaring success and we can expect repeat business through out the Spring season.  And of course, a good time was enjoyed by all.

This is a day that has been custom-made for the joy of all who care to share in it.  An endless, deep blue sky, the enticing yet elusive scents of spring float through the air, leading me deeper away into garden, instead of preparing for work.  I could lose myself in the dozens of tiny chores and tasks that a day like today can bring to my attention.  A handful of new weeds here, a branch sticking out to catch my hair that could be pruned, the grass looks a bit ragged over there, leaves that could have been moved in the fall…..on and on until I look up and behold!  The morning is gone and I have got to go with it.  My work as a custom designer at retail garden center leaves me wearied at the end of the day, but only because I pour so much of myself into it.  I am that odd person who truly loves her work and is blessed to have it close to home.  The Farm where I spend my Time is only six miles from my house through country roads, bordered by pastures and woodlands, bursting alive with the pastels of Spring.  The cattle and horses that occupy the pastures are in deep, lush grass that a mere week or so ago lay flat and brown on the surface, sheep, goats and llamas are too busy munching to look up as I pass.  It’s all humming and buzzing with the chorus of New Life, especially as I cross the small bridge over Lewis Creek, the froggies are a-courting, uh-huh.  I am grateful to the Master of the Universe for allowing me the privilege of enjoying  His Domain as I pass through the Farm Gates to enjoy another day of work.

Springtime in the South is always a little edgy, like Springtime everywhere it is a time of wild planning and and Spring fever. Just as you want to jump up and tackle a new project, another will catch your fancy and you’re off on a different course. A hundred things begging to be done and only me to do them. The garden, the flower beds, the pruning, the mulching, the Chicken Condo, all looking for attention. It makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it. A good Spring Cleaning is what the Doctor ordered and exactly what we got. For days moving on into weeks the Metro Atlanta area has been choking under sulfur-yellow clouds of pollen, that by-product of our beautiful flowering trees. We’ve always had an inordinate pride in our tree canopy, in the city itself it is unlawful to cut any tree without permission. We have in North Georgia a wonderful mix of oaks, hickories, sweetgums and the ubiquitous Southern Yellow pine. The stars of the Southern Landscape however, are our Dogwoods and Redbuds, those lovely beings that along with the azaleas and quince brighten our woodlands and roadsides. Pear, peach, plum, apple, blackberry all bursting and exploding with color and joy of living. And pollen, tons of pollen. Clouds, waves, drifts and tsunami of pollen. Everything sporting a bloom is throwing it’s special come-hither fragrance and pheromone to the wind, hoping to entice and seduce the bees and other pollinators to stay and visit for a spell. A little booty-shaking by the bee and the job is done, all set for the year and Mother is pleased. This still leaves the pollen to cling to everything, grass, pets, clothes, vehicles, porches. Porches! When I swept mine the other morning, such clouds rose with each pass of the broom that I went back inside leaving the broom outside. That day the pollen count was 5,733. Our record is right at 6,000. News helicopters flying over the city showed thick clouds of yellow “fog”, barring from view the streets and houses below.
Once again, heart felt prayers were answered, and we got rain. Such a wonderful rain. No hail. No high winds, no tornadoes. Just a sweet soaking rain that swept the sky blue again, the streets and houses clean of yellow dust and the air to crystal purity. This is the sort of Spring morning that makes the little calves kick up their heels, the baby colts frisk about, the Rooster in the pen to prance and preen, taking credit for it all. Like allergy suffers through out the area, I am over-joyed at the feel, the taste and the scent of Spring in the air. The Sparkle of Sunshine on freshly washed new leaves, still decked in their pastel greens and pinks, the glitter of broken light flashing from puddles of rainwater, the riot of birdsong carried on the breeze have me popping with energy this morning. And, Lord knows, there is plenty to do.

Spring has come with a mighty rush to the red clay hills of North Georgia. Last week we were still living with the ragged remains of a seemingly endless Winter, this week we are basking under benevolent Southern Skies. The Crabapples and Plum trees are in full foam and the Dogwoods and Redbuds are not far behind. These are our glorious assurances that the cold time has receded for another year, we may see a few recurrences of frost and even a flurry or two. We’re good with that, the tipping point has been reached, there is no going back. It’s time to take the garden tools from the shed, wheel them to the old, battered Winter garden and stand and gaze. It’s not the weeds rampaging over sunken beds and tired winter crops of collards, kale and turnips we see. But new, freshly made raised beds, neat rows of rich, bright red soil, shining leaves of vigorous, healthy plants and the bright sun striking sparks from the dew-drops that bejewel every bloom. We are looking at the buckets and baskets that overflow with bounty, green beans, juicy red tomatoes, peppers of every size, color and scoville units and those darlings of my heart, fresh baby peas that taste like candy on the tongue. So many never make it to the kitchen as they are consumed on the spot. All of this happens in 15 or 20 minutes, this dreaming of the Garden that is yet to be. It is the Dreaming, the laying out of invisible-to-the-eye plots and beds that really creates the future of the garden. The Dream comes first, it is the outline, the reality follows in due time. Without the Dream it is only a weed covered patch of land. The Dream brings it to life and I am the Dreamer who will help the Master Gardener bring it to fruition.When you truly love, it shows.

August 2022

Sustainable Living in a Disposable World

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Sandi White

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