Sow There!: Plants of mystery, plants of new promise, 8/31/2018

A monster of mystery. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
August 31, 2018 at 3:27 am

Once again, I learned something the hard way. At least this time I learned that growing a lesson can be a beautiful experience.

For those who don’t want to read the entire story and choose the summary: Nothing good grows from a compost pile.

Regular readers may recall the May article about the mystery squash growing in the compost pile. I shouldn’t be surprised that the greenery grew to such large proportions. As far as nutrients go, you can’t get better soil than rotting refuse. There may be four, five or many more plants crammed into that overgrown corner.

My best guess was that the mystery vine was Delicata squash, which I tossed on the pile and barely covered with soil.

My research turned up some verbiage from Cornell University, which states that Delicata seeds will produce plants true to the mother plant. That information turned out to be about as close to rubbish as the place where the plants grew.

The fruit has been mysterious and disappointing, but the plants are lovely. The vines clambered in and around the cheap metal fence, providing a little privacy from the passersby in my alley. The leaves are rich green, as large as a bread plate and heart-shaped. I watched as sturdy, black carpenter bees arrived in early morning to soak their legs in sticky pollen. The vines overran the fence and twice I had to drag them out of the middle of the alley, to protect my squash from being squashed by vehicle traffic.

I dreamed of buckets of Delicata.

I’m not certain, but I suspect Chuck Quackenbush must be hiding somewhere in the vines.

The plant produced, of this I am certain. Several little pumpkin-like specimens arrived. Other hanging ornaments slightly resemble acorn squash, with smoother skin. Then there are the warty dogs – objects with un-popped bubbles on yellow skin. I took a yellow dog to my classroom and the kids have admired it on our nature table.

Edible? Yes.

Delicious? Nope.

I did try to cook one squash that looked like my longed-for Delicata. The “delicate” attribute was lost somewhere between seed and fruit.

Why would I eat disappointing mystery fruit when I can harvest zucchini from a nearby plant at the rate of approximately one each day?

A farewell gift

Who knew such a tiny beginning to grow into such a hairy prickly beast of a cactus. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

Once upon a time, my friend Richard and I wandered around the Thursday night farmers market. Richard bought some cacti. He chose promising three-inch plants from the really cool cactus guy with the French accent, AKA Claude Geffray.

Walking around the farmers market with a prickly purchase isn’t the wisest move. If we had been less impulsive, we might have waited until we had eaten our basket of strawberries.

I could write a novella about the virtues of Richard, who has helped me through additional prickly predicaments, including installing a water heater, being my movie sidekick on lonely Saturday nights and listening to me moan about life in general until well past midnight …

You can just take my word for it, he’s one of those truly great friends.

When he told me he was leaving town, I did not try to dissuade him. When a person has learned to listen for the next best step, and a life adventure presents itself, a wise man or woman takes that next best step.

His trust in this decision is inspiring.

This week we said some formal goodbyes. The tiny cacti were a gift to my garden. After many years, they’re too big to take on a boat to Alaska.

Richard deposited two oversized metal buckets near my rusted wheelbarrow. The plants, just like our friendship, have grown. One plant is a silvery white, tall like an Italian Cypress but covered with hairy spikes. We called it “Cousin It.”

The other, also grown to a rather large size, is similar to a prickly pear cactus, but with fewer prickles. I’m glad to have the gifts, but I will miss the gift-giver.

My prediction is that I will still need Richard’s good advice. When I call him in Alaska at midnight, his time zone will be one hour later.

I don’t know where I collected this quote, but it is by Shakespeare. I remember reading it in about fourth grade, savoring the words and rewriting them in red ink with my father’s manual typewriter.

Maybe I was saving those words for today:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

or lose our ventures.”

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