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Culture

For the Love of an Ozarks' Garden

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(Flickr)

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills, asking: How big is a garden? It’s a silly and unanswerable question, and sounds like those old jabberwocky jokes that passed through in the 60s, like “what’s the difference between a duck? Answer: One leg’s both the same. There is either no answer, no answer that makes any sense, or “it depends.”

Right now most folks passing through my patch would say it’s way too weedy, way too late, way too big, etc. but if they looked instead into my pantry, my freezer and the stack of filled baskets of assorted veggies laying around they’d say, “maybe it’s just about right.”

It’s not, really. It’d be just right if I was 40, or even 60, and I hadn’t been doing major physical adjustments  such as dealing with heart trouble (twice), cancer (twice) and diabetes throughout. Oh, and did I say I’m 71? So I guess since it’s my garden, it’s my call. And I’m calling it way too big for any sane person at the far end of her prime to tackle. And yet I can’t find a single place to downsize. 

I will admit that I wasn’t strong enough at the beginning. And that due to my old truck, Tonto, insisting on substantial repairs before agreeing to haul any more cardboard for weed control. And that it took some lengthy time to finally shake free mostly from that overhanging cloud of impending mortality that one always has to deal with after a scary illness, at least until one remembers that the garden will fix most of that. 

But on the other hand, there was all that lovely rain early on. And even though I don’t own the place I’m living on, I am at least temporarily in possession of that most sacred of circumstances, at least in the Ozarks. My garden is a virtually rock-free patch of earth.

I understand it was heavily gardened more than a decade ago, obviously by one of those diligent sorts who took rock removal seriously. And it made me sad last year to begin anew there, because it was almost entirely infested with crabgrass. But then I found that, unlike the dread Bermuda grass, crabgrass can be dug up and or tilled up, and the remaining runners, when they re-sprout, can be pulled up. And, most importantly, it can be smothered with cardboard. 

So may I say, with some pride attached, that even though it’s way too big and way too weedy, this is the best garden I have ever had. And I’ve had a few. There was that one I inherited from some migrant workers in the Livermore valley of California, that consisted of simply a couple ruts left from a large truck’s tires into which a small dose of irrigation water had been diverted, and some tomato, pepper, cilantro and squash seed had been randomly tossed. That was back in April or so of that year I think. When I arrived in October, it was a giant tangle of salsa ingredients. I took from that the notion that I too could be a casual success in that perfect climate. But then I moved over near the coast and I planted a garden in a little ready-made bed in a sunny spot in my front yard. That was in May, after which I watched the fog go in and out and every single plant either mold or maintain a fragile paralysis. Until October; when the fog stayed out and I had tomatoes for a couple weeks. Until the endless winter rains began.

So I moved to Utah, where there are grown amazing fruits and vegetables. I managed to borrow a garden spot there and waited until Memorial Day to put in the tomatoes and peppers, in case of a late frost. And then four days later it snowed four inches. It was explained to me later that Utah actually has only two seasons – winter and July. It eventually offered up a few tomatoes and peppers, some odds and ends of greens, and some wonderful winter squashes. Except by then i had moved, and someone else ate them.

But this garden, my garden this year, is something else altogether. Enough sun, few enough rocks, long history of soil amendments, and an abundance of the fruits and greens of the earth. From tomatoes to spuds and on to baskets of cukes, okra, onions and green beans - nature’s bounty as any old-timer will tell you, especially one who’s traveled some - is at its all-time perfection when grown in the Ozarks soil.

When the generation before mine moved to California, they sent home generous boxes filled with dates and English walnuts, and letter after letter that told of California’s huge, beautiful and taste-free tomatoes. And giant crates of perfect, giant strawberries that were equally tasteless. There they were in that fabulous climate, not bothering with a garden because they wouldn’t be interested in the results. It’s probably why some of us chose to stay home when the chance came to seek our fortune in the golden west. But that wouldn’t be me.

I was one of those in that other bunch who went out to make their fortune, learned and grew and invested heavily in the fascination of multicultural arts, cultures, and odd edibles like artichokes, avocados and loquats. But the kind of fortune I was seeking, I discovered, only existed in dreams, and that the real fortune came when I wearied of fascination and I made enough money to come home.

This is a very blissed-out Marideth Sisco, engulfed in the sweet tastes of the Ozarks harvest, and rejoicing daily in the knowledge that my way too big and too weedy Ozarks garden this year is, as my gardening family would say, “just durn near perfect.”

For more stories and songs by Marideth Sisco, visit her web page: www.maridethsisco.com.