Saturday, August 31, 2013

Strange Bedfellows


Once upon a time, on a three-acre plot which was lovingly – though not expertly - tended by the family who lived on it, there lived a lovely, but somewhat wild and disheveled vegetable garden.  This garden - which was full of strawberries, blackberries, carrots, onions, beans, melons, passion fruit and many other  herbs and vegetables - was full of life and each of the garden’s occupants had its own personality and temperament.
One cool crisp Saturday morning, the family came out to tend the garden and to put the finishing touches on a very special bed which they had been working on since early spring.  All of the garden’s occupants curiously watched the family’s diligent work. 
“What are they up to?” the tender broccoli seedlings asked the nearby tomato vines.
“We couldn’t care less,” replied the tomatoes.  “We have been growing and ripening tomatoes for months now.  Our vines are dying from the ground up and we have our hands full just struggling to ripen our remaining fruit before the late blight or the first frost finishes us off.  We are exhausted and simply too worn out to care.  Go ask the strawberries, maybe they can be of help.”
So the young, innocent broccoli seedlings shouted across the aisle to the strawberry patch.  “What do you think the family is up to?”
“We couldn’t say,” replied the strawberries.  “However, our family has grown so well over the summer that our bed has become more than just a little crowded.  Regardless of what they are working on, we could use just a little of their time and attention.  If they truly loved us, they would pull some of the weeds which threaten us, remove some of our “spent” relatives, and perhaps give us just a taste of that yummy fertilizer they hide over there in the shed.”
Like most youngsters, unanswered questions just made the broccoli children “curiouser” and “curiouser.”  Turning to the teenage bush beans which shared the far end of the broccoli’s space, the broccoli inquired as to whether the bush beans had any idea what sort of project had absorbed so much of the family’s time and attention this fine summer morn.
“Huh?” replied the adolescent legumes.  “We are very grown up now and are quite busy with our own interests.  Can’t you see we have just started to bloom?  While Mom was weeding us this morning, we may have heard her say something to the boys about how the new bed had to be free of clods before it could be planted.  But, honestly, we are teenagers and we never really listen to what others have to say.  Can’t you see our beautiful flowers – they are the only thing that really matters.  Everything else is trivial in comparison to the cool things that are happening on our end of the bed.”
“Coming through!” chirped something brown and speckled as it skittered across the broccoli bed and hid itself within the tall, green bed of asparagus fern. 
“I don’t know why Mom chose this morning to let those flighty, scratching quail run free in our garden,” complained the blackberry vines.  “This neighborhood is going to hell in a hand cart.  All of our ripe, juicy fruit has been picked and we are just looking for a little peace and quiet so we can grow our young tender vines for next year’s crop.  Is that too much to ask?”
“Don’t be so grumpy,” replied the wise old asparagus ferns as their lacy green foliage swayed from side to side with the tickle of the merry summer breezes.    Every bug and grub these tiny birds eat is one less that will survive the winter and return to plague us next year.  Besides, now that the robins and bluebirds have flown south, these little birds are our only defense.  Show a little gratitude, please.”
From a distant garden corner, the tall, lanky pole beans - which had grown so tall that their tops now hung over the sides of their six foot trellis and were so heavy laden with their crop that the weight of the world was literally on their shoulders - rushed to the little quails’ defense.  ‘Why don’t you blackberries pick on somebody your own size?  Why this little golden quail has been running up and down my row all morning doing quite a number on these pesky white flies and beetles. Don’t you worry little Goldie, I’ve got your back.”  And, feeling reassured, the little golden quail settled down to rest in the hole he had dug for himself.
Distracted for only a moment by the boisterous quail and the ensuing bickering, the broccoli babies quickly returned to their task of solving The Mystery of the New Garden Bed.  “It seems we are getting some new neighbors,” they called to the golden raspberries who were lazily basking in the sun while ripening their heavy clusters of honey sweet fruit.
“Indeed,” replied the raspberry plants who, coincidentally, were all named Anne.  “Since the new bed is right next to ours, we have been watching all summer long as the bed was excavated two feet down and filled with a mixture of soil and compost.  This morning they dressed it with a delicious layer of horse manure – yum.  We suspect that someone very special is about to move in.  Of course, our golden fruit is the most delectable treat in the garden, so naturally only the best and brightest would be moved in right next door.”
Artichoke Plants from
Sweetheart Artichokes
Newly Plant Artichoke Plant
But to the dismay of all the onlookers, Mom and her son began to unwrap three of the ugliest plants the garden dwellers had ever seen.  Even the tuckered out, disinterested tomatoes rose from their stupor and intently watched as three shriveled, greenish-gray, long rooted aliens were carefully tucked into the massive 4’ x 16’ bed.  “They each must have five feet of space,” Mother was heard to say.  “They have traveled here all the way from their mother's house in California.  Their Sweetheart of a Mom's name is Gail.  These plants are very special and delicate.  We must shade the little darlings from the sun for at least 10 days.” 
The garden dwellers could not believe their eyes as they watched Mother and Son carefully erect a screen out of landscape fabric which would shield the ugly ducklings from the harsh rays of the son.  Then the entire bed was watered deeply.  “They must be thoroughly soaked,” Mom cautioned her son.  And, as if once wasn’t enough, everyone once again heard her say, “they are very delicate.”  The bush beans rolled their eyes.
What’s happening?” called the tiny fall carrots who were sharing a bed with the recently decapitated parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil.  “The tomatoes are blocking our view and we can’t see a thing!”
“Oh, es muy malo,” the spicy Jalapenos replied.  “Be happy you can’t see it.  We have grown so tall this year that we can see over the tomatoes.  Ugh, what a horrible sight.  The ugliest, queerest plants you have ever seen have moved in right next to the raspberries!  The two-inch tall, carrots gasped and quivered in fear.
It’s not fair!” the petulant bush beans exclaimed.  “We are crowded into the tail end of this second-hand broccoli bed with only three inches of space between us, while those ugly newcomers get an entire sixteen foot bed to themselves?  To make things worse, I heard Mom say this morning that she might stick a few more carrot seeds into the empty spaces between us.  It’s not fair!”
“I told you the neighborhood was going to hell in a handcart,” the blackberries spat at the asparagus ferns.
The baby broccoli were speechless.
“What kind of plants did you say these were?” the son asked his mother.
“They are artichoke plants – my favorite vegetable,” the mother replied.
“How big will they get?” he asked.
“If we care for them well, water them twice a day until they get settled into their new home, and nurse them through the winter, they should be four feet tall and five feet wide by this time next year.”
The strawberry plants could stand no more.  “Four feet tall, five feet wide, ugly as sin, and de – li - cate.  Now we never will get the attention we deserve,”
The raspberry plants were seriously considering moving to a new neighborhood.
“Next year, we can hide under their large leaves,” the tiny quail whispered conspiratorially to each other.
Artichoke Blossom
Mother continued her soliloquy.  “Next year they will be covered with large flower buds, which we will harvest and cook into one delicious dish after another.  Also, we might leave a few buds on each plant just so we can watch them burst open into the most stunningly beautiful, giant, purply blue flowers that this garden has ever seen.”
“Hey!” the passion flower vine protested.  “That really hurt.”
“Hmm,” the golden raspberries named Anne stopped a moment to consider this.  “The ugly duckling plant will, by this time next year, become a beautiful swan.  We might just have to stick around to see the show.”
The baby artichoke plants were feeling shy and uncertain.   Realizing that they were different from their neighbors and not entirely welcome, they snuggled tight into their new bed and decided to rest awhile.  There would be plenty of time to get acquainted - no need to rush things.

The strawberries giggled as they were weeded, fed and watered.  The tiny lettuce and spinaches drank thirstily from the watering wand.  Everyone got a little attention from Mom and, at the end of the day, all but the bush beans were in good humor.  What can I say -  they're teenagers.

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