Letting Go - An Old Garden Revisted

Again this last week I found myself about to drive past my former house and garden. Though I knew what I was approaching, I was not prepared. The sight of it, even in the dark, startled me. The curtain of illusion was thrown back. I was free-falling in mortality. My old garden was gone!

Gardening, like so many things, is a performance art. We think we have created something permanent - stone, soil, seed. But the world is built around flux. If not this year...decade..century...millennium, then in the next, all is certain to recycle. When the Mayflower landed, the New England countryside was primeval forest. By the 1800's one could ride the stagecoach from Boston to New York without seeing a tree. Now in the 21st century, the trees once again clothe the local landscape. Change is inevitable. So one might as well accept at the start that it is in the doing of a thing that our human lives are fulfilled. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a restoration project as much as the next person. But I will die happy if I can remain part of the performance, even if all there is left is the breath.

My former house and garden were in an old part of an established New England town. Originally Victorian in color and theme, it moldered away under layers of years and paint to the point of rot. Shrubs, hedges and trees overgrew, as they were originally planted to close to the buildings. After years of labor, terraced rock gardens were installed, the Victorian house colors restored, and shrubs and small trees lined the street side for privacy. There were collections of exquisite wildflowers, from double trilliums to Streptopus roseus on the side of the house. Now there is a decorator yellow house with green grass manicured all the way to the street. A passerby can look directly into the living room from the road. A little outdoor grill sits off the front steps. I am sure the new owners are very satisfied to have the additional mowing chores.

One thing they did leave was a rather nice Magnolia stellata. And of course the performance of the garden still remembered lingers in my mind. It was very satisfying. To give you a peek, I have reprinted a glimpse of my life and the gardens there:

A Perfect Summer Morning

After a summer night of rain, the sun peeks through the mist of the morning. It is hard to tell how the day will blossom as the light slinks up the bedroom wall. You almost feel the mist upon your face as you gaze out over the garden.

Eager to meet with the day, you take your cereal bowl to sit on the stone steps at the side of the rock bedecked slope. Color is the first thing to greet you. The blues of summer gentians, lagodechiana and septemfida, are full blown now. Their royalty sparkles in the steamy light. Underneath your legs, Erinus alpinus olivieri, unlike its plain muddied sister, clears your brain's palate like some refreshing fruit sorbet. In another garden, on another day, this has been called E. a. 'Dr. Hanele'. New to the garden, it was an early spring division from a friend. The leaf and habit looked very usual. The clear pink color has moved it to a class ahead.


Several weeks ago we harvested the vegetable gardens. Turns out this was a stellar year for carrots and beets- two lily trays of carrots and one of beets. Some critter had already started harvesting the beet crop before we got there. Probably half a lily tray was wasted, from our point of view, when the critter gnawed the top half of many beets. I can see him rolling backward after chomping his way through it. A smile would be dripping beet juice as he rested on his fully satisfied belly for a snooze. Peter Rabbit lookout- this is "way not cool!"

For the past few seasons we found a way to preserve that fresh-picked crunch over the winter and well into summer of the next year: culturing. There is no heat during the process other than when I clean the jars. The vegetable never loses its pizazz, like conventional canning. Now this is not for everyone's taste - just ask at my workplace. The smell drives some people to the point of uncivilized inappropriate gestures. And surprisingly it is some of the people who extol sauerkraut. Let me put it this way, I hesitate to offer it to anyone used to standard American fare. One of our children loves it, one doesn't mind if we eat it, the others do not care for it at all. Both Rod & I really enjoy it - we use it as a relish for meats, a topping for oatmeal, a hearty salad addition, a side for just about anything you might want for a meal. When Rod cooks for himself, he need only grill a piece of meat, then add his cultured vegetables from the fridge. So to you adventurous souls, I present a great way to put up the bounty of beets and carrots from the garden. Add to that, for all you concerned with your girth, it is one of the foods that help curb carb cravings. Yes!

Washing the carrots from the garden
For a culture starter I usually buy a box or two from Body Ecology. Yes, this is a lot like making yogurt. The box comes with several packets of the culture, specifically intended to synergize with the vegetables. And of course, it's good for synergy with our guts. The labels reads anti-gut disbyosis, like IBS, Crohn's Disease and Colitis. Sign me up to keep all that at bay. And culturing vegetables is not a complicated process, quicker than home canning, with a result that is fresh tasting as well as good for you. First you wake up the Lactobacillus with a little warm honey drink. Then you mix it with the shredded vegetables. Keep it in a warm room for a few days and let the bacteria do the job. Fermenting.

Rod cutting off the carrot tops
We start with cleaning the kitchen and sterilizing all the tools - bottles, lids, bowls, ladles, et all. Then we brush the vegetables clean in the sink, removing all the bad spots, tops, and gnarls, if any. Rod or I then push the beets or carrots through the food processor. Years ago I decided to get a used commercial food processor. It makes matchstick carrots in seconds flat. This makes processing large batches from the garden a few evening's work. That is all we put into this year's batches - two evenings after dinner during the week.

Filling the jars
There is a special white stool I keep nearby the kitchen for this occasion. Next to this I  place a low small table (in our case an old chowkie leftover from the children's school days) up close. I feel like the dairy maid a'churning. To prepare, I mix the warmed activated culture with water and a few stalks of celery in the blender and add from a list of possible ingredients such as garlic, ginger, or herbs. This I pour over the julienned vegetables in my large stock pot. Next comes the pounding. I have found my baker's professional plastic rolling pin to be the best tool. It is easy on the hand and really makes a good mash. After twenty minutes or so, Rod usually takes a turn. One can also make cultured butter this way.

Packing the jar
Then I pack the sterilized jars, mashing down the ingredients until near the top. For the last inch or so, I roll logs of cabbage and press them down. This helps keep the juices from overflowing while bubbling. I cap the jars, wash and stack them near the sink. I will leave them out to bubble for 5 days in the warm kitchen. After that, it's off to the extra refrigerator downstairs. We pull a jar or two as needed to keep in the main fridge. Oh-delicious!

Jars a'Culturing
There are so many variations to the recipes that we usually try something different in each batch: gingered carrots; garlic carrots with dill; cinnamon carrots with ginger. You get the picture. My daughter does this same process with cabbage, but without the packets of culture. Cabbage has a natural proclivity to ferment with beneficial bacteria. I will have to plant extra cabbage next year - maybe red and savoy. That would make a pretty jar!