Monday, June 13, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Garden


When we moved into our neighborhood, it was because it was a neighborhood.  In Westport, where the roads were paved over old carriage roads that once connected remote farm to remote farm and make no sense whatsoever in the modern world, neighborhoods are not easy to find.  There are short cul-de-sacs, but one can't guarantee there will be other similar families in those four or five adjacent homes.  Instead, we have hilly, curvy streets that don't intersect and few sidewalks.  The kids here need a ride to get to friends' houses until they're in high school.  What happened to riding a bike to a friend's and getting home just a little too late for Mom's comfort?

The idea of buying on a loop that connects to a major thoroughfare on both ends was that the kids would at least be able to take their scooters on little rides up and down the side street.  We hoped there would be other kids, but the major road at least provide us an easy drive for playdates.  We hoped to give our kids some of what we had when we had: a real neighborhood where kids played outside with their chums.

So, I was fairly ecstatic when a woman showed up at my door a few weeks after we'd settled and handed me a brown paper bag of blueberries.  She'd just gone berry-picking, she explained, with her two children who were the same ages as my younger two.  Not only that, but she had a nose-ring just like me!  It was kismet.

Not only did my kids have friends only two houses away, but I gained a friend, too.  It was a bonus that never even occurred to me when we bought kid-friendly property.  Now Luba and I have our mugs of coffee at the bus-stop in front of my house each morning, talk about getting older, talk about our husbands, talk about the latest drama of our kindergarten boys "illegally" trading Lego toys in the afternoon bus line at school.

And, we talk garden.  Truth be told, Luba's garden really belongs to her husband, Boris.  And, it was Boris who stopped by with the kids on their bikes yesterday to see if mine could come out to play.  Oh, I love a neighborhood!!  Brenner and Gabi were still cleaning their rooms as is our Sunday custom, but Westley (the youngest) had finished and went out to play.  I took everyone into the chicken run to see the feathery 5-week-old chickies and to give them some sunflower kernels for a treat.  Then, while the three kids drove their training wheels around in circles on the driveway and made parking spaces for them with chalk outlines, Boris and I went to the garden.

Let's be clear:  I love my garden.  It is neat and tidy, and all the sections of plants are labeled with little markers in the ground in front of them.  There are very neat raised beds with mulched pathways in between.  It is enclosed by pretty four-by-four posts with wire mesh.  There is a real gate.

But, I must say it is sparse.  There's more pathway than plant beds; I've had to buy 20 pots to put around those pathways to give myself more planting space.  And, I thought my veggies were taking off quite nicely, having already harvested some lettuce and radishes.  Westley and I even go out to take strawberries off their vines and eat them warm from the sun.  Boris seemed appropriately impressed with my organization and complained to me in neighborly fashion how he'd planted too thickly.  He felt his spinach was overgrown and that he'd missed the sweetness of arugula by taking it to flower.  He wasn't sure how to tell when the potatoes, which are underground but covered in thick leaves, would be ready to dig up.  This was only my second summer of gardening, and I was feeling rather expert.

Boris left to tend his garden.  The kids stayed at my house to play upstairs, having abandoned their little vehicles.  Luba came a while later with a big, orange Halloween bowl of spinach and arugula picked from her garden.  What could I give her in return?  Ugh.  A few radishes?  I said thank you and asked to see her garden instead.

It was a wonder!  Giant leaves of Jack-and-the-Beanstalk proportions!  Food, ready to eat off the vine!  Sweet, green, charmingly-phallic stalks of zucchini!  My zucchini were only beginning to bloom and were still small in their prohibitive pots.  Luba complained of the closeness of everything, but Luba labels her dresser drawers.  Neatness is of critical importance to her in a way I doubt her vegetables would understand.  It was my turn to stand in awe and feel less-than by comparison.  It would be weeks before I could arrive at her door with an odd holiday bowl full of fresh anything.
(here, my son Westley and Luba's daughter Stella, mug for the camera in Luba's lush garden.)

Later that afternoon, I installed the two 6-foot fan-style trellises that Boris had picked up for me on his Home Depot run.  (Oh, neighbors, thou art my friends and errand-runners!)  Then, at dinner, I blanched the tender greens from the ghastly bowl and tossed them with soy sauce and pine nuts.  Along with the warm fingerling salad and pita bread made by another friend, my family enjoyed a delicious meal.

I do miss my old house in the Weston Woods.  The whooshing noise of the nearby Merritt Parkway is, expectedly, not as pleasant as the quiet of a nature preserve, and I miss the turkeys calling and the coyotes howling.  But, I wouldn't trade my neighbors for them.

I think I'll try to plant some things the way Boris and Luba have -- a little overgrown, directly into beds instead of pots.  Their garden is prolific, and I'm eager to harvest some peas or something soon.  I have so much to learn.  I'll keep my labels, though.

It's nearly time for my boys to awake and get off to school, which means a date with Luba at the bus-stop.  The orange Halloween bowl is in my dish-drainer, ready to be returned, empty of food but full of gratitude.

Today I wish for some sunshine.  These gray days are nice when they water my garden, but I'm ready for some warmth again.


I'm thankful for my neighborhood.  I realize it is more than just a collection of houses and inhabitants on a conveniently flat road.  We happen to be, in large measure, like-minded souls sharing a space of land and some good conversation.  We watch out for each other.


I'm especially thankful for Luba, my kindred spirit. 



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