Be careful what you plant...and wish for

This Side Up


Not long after Mother’s Day, I stopped in at Tracey’s Greenhouse, next to Dave’s Marketplace on West Shore Road, to pick up plants for our flower and vegetable gardens. It’s become a tradition, and the visit is as much a renewal of acquaintances as it is looking over the beds of plants and making selections, which is always fun after a long winter.

Actually, the selection is virtually the same from year to year, so I could be in and out in no time, if I wanted. But, you can’t rush gardening, even if you’re getting a head start on the process. The enjoyment is being a part of and following the cycle.

Carol loves it.

She’ll spend hours transplanting marigolds and sunflowers that have seeded themselves, weeding, watering and setting up cylindrical wire tomato cages to prevent the plants from being crushed by Ollie. These defenses dot the lawn, where crocuses and violets display early spring, and later move to the garden beds. They become natural perches for sparrows that are collecting bits of grass and twigs for their nest under the porch eaves. It all fits together; it’s all part of the plan.

This year, Carol had other thoughts when it came to the vegetable garden. We’ve tried Swiss chard, broccoli, carrots, beats, beans and several varieties of lettuce. But tomatoes, parsley, basil and zucchini are the staples, year after year, as are zinnias and petunias in the flower garden.

“They get too big,” Carol said of the zucchini, “and besides, we didn’t get any last year.”

Carol knew I was planning my pilgrimage to Tracy’s. What she was saying was absolutely true. The zukes had taken over the garden, although if we had three or four mature zucchinis that was a lot.

I protested, remembering their yellow flowers and the first harvest, and the snap, with a twist of the waxy fruit. They taste better than store bought. They have to.

“Where are you going to put them?”

She had a point. The giant leaves would block the sun for the herbs and they would compete with the tomatoes.

Then she devised a plan: the zucchini would find room under the sunflowers. The garden took on a new configuration. Tomatoes line the southern border, with parsley and basil in the east and sunflowers and zucchini in the west. A wide path of neutral territory is down the middle.

It looked disproportioned, with the seedlings in neat rows following the garden contours, surrounding an expanse of fresh dirt. Everything had its place and, presumably, room to grow.

Carol keeps it free of weeds and Ollie. She waters faithfully. Everything has flourished. Some sunflowers stand above my head. Green tomatoes fill the vines, and the zucchini have extended their canopy into the middle ground just as Carol thought they would.

The first fruit is here. Over the Fourth of July weekend, a tiny zuke, no bigger than a gherkin, made its debut. It looked like we would get a harvest this year. Carol pointed out the prize and she checked on it daily.

My daughter, Diana, and her daughter, Natalie, were spending the week with us. Naturally, Carol took them on a garden tour, although four zucchini and eight tomato plants make for a quick tour. But she was proud to show off the bounty we would soon harvest.

“That zuke is really coming along,” she reported. “We should pick it soon.”

The following evening, when I returned from the office, this two-pound giant was on the kitchen table. I was amazed. This single squash was more than the garden produced all last summer. How had we not seen it before it had reached such proportions? Had it gone through a growth spurt over the last two days? It was the berzerk zucchini!

I had visions of the garden taken over by giant zucchini that I would pawn off on neighbors and bring to the office in the hope that someone might take them home. Did we plant some kind of virulent strain that would take over the yard?

I was starting to wonder about my wish for a few zukes.

“What happened?” I exclaimed.

Carol laughed.

“It was Diana.”

“Diana?” I asked.

She had a wide smile. Our daughter spotted the zucchini alongside a “free” sign while in South County. She surreptitiously hid it in the garden for Carol to discover. Guess what we had for dinner that night … and the night after … and the night after that?

The tomatoes can’t ripen soon enough for me.


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