Grandma Isabella stars in many of my garden memories. The back yard in Caln featured a grape arbor, vegetable garden, apple, peach and pear trees, and a chicken coop. Even though I was only five when she died, I can still picture her bent over with her hoe, weeding between the rows of her tomato and pepper plants. I can see her shaking out her apron, feeding table scraps to her chickens. I can still taste the warm egg she fed me straight from the shell (we didn't worry about salmonella when there were only a couple of chickens in the yard). We all looked forward to the fourth of July, the day she said we could pick the first tomatoes off the vine and eat them still warm from the summer sun. In August, she led us in preserving the garden bounty for the long winter ahead, and the pantry shelves heaved with jars of tomato sauce, green beans, and peaches.
Grandma had very little formal education, but she knew gardens. She planted peas on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, and we gobbled raw peas by the pound. She used fish bones as a natural fertilizer in the garden. She planted marigolds around the border to keep out pests. She moved the zucchini around the garden so squash borers never had a chance to establish. I only wish I could remember more of her garden lore. She believed that "stolen" plants performed better than gifted ones, so she would use her sharp nails to nip clippings when her friends weren't looking. Those snippets grew into beautiful plantings. Her Christmas cactus is still producing beautiful blooms in December, and while the clippings I stole from my own grandmother's Christmas cactus (with her blessing) bloom in February rather than December, they are further proof of her stolen-plant theory.
As the hot summer days gradually grow shorter, I hope that you take time to sit on a swing on a screened porch, sip a tall glass of iced tea, and remember the relatives with green thumbs and the gardens of years ago.