It is a hot beating July day, I load up my small bucket, my large bucket, and a sprinkling can into a push cart and slowly slosh my way downhill to the garden. The "garden" is in the middle of nowhere, next to a busy highway, next to a chain link fence, rising up like an island of vegetation in an empty lot. Right now it's waving at me, big green elephant ears (pumpkin leaves) never fail to greet me cheerfully and the long supple strokes of "ballerina arms" (corn leaves) and then the symphony of Foxtail grasses which when moved by wind might sound like the chimes of a xylophone if audible.
The garden has no name yet, no actual purpose was intended other than what it's teaching me and slowly bringing me face to face with a small neighborhood of children, parents and retired folks who all seem to have the same question for me:" How are the pumpkins?" Pumpkins have stolen the show, won the good hearts of neighbors and created an instant tradition. It is only my 2nd year of growing these pumpkins but the tremendous response has made me feel that I am an old timer at this.
The secret to charming the whole world is pumpkins. Remember they turned into a magic coach for Cinderella? Well, they are still magic, transcending my garden from a dumpy lot to a fairytale of rural sweetness. These pumpkins would not be here if it weren't for Butch George. He is the last working farmer in my hometown of Northville. I went out to visit his beautiful patch in October of 2008 and fell to swooning. Pumpkins are the last remaining field crop in our town that can be sold directly from the field to the consumer, or rather to all the thousands of neighbors Butch now has who have moved into subdivisions built on the land he had to sell to survive taxes.
I thanked Butch for all his efforts and brought home 3 big pumpkins I called "buffaloes" There was one that I favored and by the first snowfall I took it into the garage to store for the winter. I the spring I gathered the seeds from half thawed pumpkin carcass.I had a brown paper bag nearly full of pumpkin seeds in 2 days. I sowed only half those seeds and even that may have been overstated for Butch's buffaloes roam ecstatically. The city brought me a load of compost so that I could start fresh, spreading the compost mountains, as soft as the dirt was, it was still an adventure, I sifted out a small pyramid of trash, especially all the plastic materials that do not rot if thrown away.
The pumpkin garden is not only visited by neighbors but by people who drive by on the highway to have a look, construction workers, city workers, and plenty of wildlife, from the overly indulging honeybees coated in pumpkin pollen grains (bright orange, of course!)to the curious groundhogs.
For me, pumpkins were the answer to fixing some of the emptiness that I found here that mirrored a larger way of life in the suburb and of how we treat and use our landscapes. Pumpkins said immediately what I felt. It was a way for me to honor the rural heritage of my community, especially farmers like Butch, and it was a way to understand neighborliness on a deeper level, being able to share my values and commitment to garden for the good of all, as a resource, and guide to a healthier relationships with a shared landscape.
This year I have added purple beans and open pollinated corn. There's a blackberry hedge where I gather the ripe fruits now for a wonderful flavored tea I learned to make. I have prairie flowers that hug the garden and attract many pollinators and insects that I longed to see such as ladybugs. The amount of insect life must be enormous for there are always dragonflies hunting here in flashes of blue, black green and chocolate brown. The real surprise was a half wild rose that bloomed in a startling red color, a bonus plant donated from the compost heap. I call her "Cinderella" and she waits upon her pumpkins in a sort of fairytale like quality among all these rugged and handsome plants of agriculture and prairie.
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