After two weeks of unrelenting cold and several snowfalls that were both deep and early, we are having a week of heavy and warmish rain to finish off the last official bit of autumn. As the rain melts the snow and exposes the gardening mistakes I made over the last few weeks, mistakes of neglect rather than overt action, I am thinking of my grandmother.
She would have been 102 this month – she passed away just shy of her 101st birthday last year. She was an avid gardener of the old-school variety. She grew up in the wheat-growing region of eastern Washington, on a large farm. It was her job as a child to tend to the family kitchen garden. She knew how to do everything from sowing to tending to harvesting to winterizing, from putting up seed for the following year to drying corn and grinding it for flour. She was pitiless when it came to failing plants, unrelenting when it came to salvaging what could be salvaged. She was still putting up preserves in case of a hard winter into her late eighties – even though she had moved to southern California to be near family.
She taught me a lot of what she knew when it came to certain tasks. “You come from pioneer stock, you have to know at least a little,” she told me. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, bread-baking, hand-written thank-you notes, hard-headedness and determination. Unfortunately, I missed out on the gardening lessons because we lived too far apart when I was young, and even farther apart when I got older. She visited me once here in France and saw my garden – back when it was the romantic, overgrown and tangled mess we had inherited from the previous owners. She was almost ninety at the time, and her main advice, dispensed with a scythe-like gesture towards everything but the fruit trees, was to ‘cut it all down and start over’.
Well, I didn’t quite do that, but I have cleaned it up quite a bit. Only this year, due to various travel obligations and the early snow, I didn’t quite get around to tying up and bedding down everything that needed it. And I know this week’s rains will expose my ill deeds. Oh, yes, I took care of the fruit-bearing trees and the useful perennials – the ghost of my grandmother would smite me if I hadn’t. It’s all the other stuff that’s suffering.
What I’m hoping is that I can get a chance to make things right, out there in the mud, so that by the official start of winter the garden will be in a condition of which my grandmother, who I miss every day, would not have completely disapproved.