Friday, May 29

Aunt Violet's Vegetable Garden

Aunt Violet is my mother's younger sister and at 88 the matriarch of our family. She retired back to Crossville from Ohio almost 20 years ago. Since then she has bought land, built a house, and installed gardens. She retired from her big job but was bored and so got another job where she worked until she was 85. She also put in gardens using the lasagna method.

When I first came home from New York to check on her she was driving a new pick-up with U of T detailing on it. She was having some trouble with her sight but was still able to drive to work and keep up with her house and her eight kids. What she was missing in her gardens were leaves. I collected several bags and transported them to her house. She used the leaves in her beds to enrich the soil.

This would have been about 14 years ago and until 3 years ago she was still working in her gardens and going to work five days a week. Then she took a fall on the stairs and broke a rib that punctured her spleen. She has had three years of recovery and several steps backward since but I am happy to report she looks great and is feeling much better. She pines for a real job to go to.

This year she decided not to make a garden and told me I could use the space. I was thrilled that I would have a place to plant vegetables but I would also be near Aunt Violet to visit more often.

I rushed out to the greenhouse and bought three flats of annuals and four tomato plants. Once the annuals were planted on the front of the garden I put the tomatoes in the back. I checked to see if the merry marigolds and dainty dianthus could be seen from the back porch of Aunt Violet's house and placed cages over the tomatoes.

In the weeks that followed I planted cucmbers, beans, squash, musk melon, eggplant and watermelon; little, baby, green watermelon that would each feed just two people. In the remaining spaces I planted herbs; dill, basil and garlic chives.

Aunt Violet had made the garden with the basic lasagna gardening principals: newspaper, grass clippings, peat moss, compost, chopped leaves and broken bags of potting mix. The soil was rich and full of earth worms, a sure sign of healthy soil. Except for an errant piece of grass it was weedfree. I admit I didn't give the garden much attention but depended on sun and rain to keep it all growing.

Over the summer I would go once or twice a week to check on the garden and visit with Aunt Violet. It was a win-win for both of us. We kept in touch and shared in the harvest. There were some problems with a blight on the tomatoes but I picked them green and made fried-green-tomatoes that were delicious. The eggplant attracted Japanese beetles but kept them from getting on other plants and the fruit I did harvest were delicious. Rabbits got the beans but the cucumbers took over the space. My cousin needed the dill so that was put to good use.

It's the end of July and I have about 20 musk melon and 8 watermelon. The cucumbers are still bearing and I have worn out my welcome as the cucumber lady. As I wait on melons to ripen I sit with Aunt Violet on her back porch and we talk about our people and everything else we can think of.

The best part of this garden has been our interaction and the rows of flowers that remind us of Mama Webb (Aunt Violet's mother and my grandmother). She who was the best gardener of all and years after her passing is still setting the bar for those us us who remain.


  1. You are so lucky to have an elder in your family to tell you about the years gone by and to remember together the family that has gone before. I envy you that connection as the entire generation before mine is gone and has been for years. Oh yeah take your overabundance of cukes to the food bank-someone will take them:)

  2. Cheri,

    Everyday I ask my companion to write down his stories about his life, his parents and siblings. I seem to be more interested in family history than he is but I do think it is important to record whatever you know, your memories of people, places and things. If you are the currant keeper of the past then you are the one who has to write it down. I passed out all the cukes and am now passing out peppers, musk melon and watermelons. Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you will come back as I am now learning to add pictures. Cheers, Pat