Even though I’ve never planted anything in my life, and even though live, green, growing things tend to have an abbreviated life span in my hands, I planted an organic, culinary herb garden on Mother’s Day. I dedicate it to my late mother, Diane Moore Mondie, and all of my other ancestral mothers. Our neighborhood green thumb and gardener extraordinaire, Rodney, actually planted it, but the idea of surrounding our home with a lush landscape dedicated to our connection to others is one that has been with me for many years. And even though Rodney installed it, my daughters and I will learn from him how to nurture it as if our connection to these women depended on our care and attention to these herbs.
Leading up to Mother’s day, I plowed away at a stack of research papers so that I would not have to spend the weekend feeling torn between a load of ungraded stuff and enjoying time with my children. So on Friday afternoon I was free to go to the Flower Mart on the grounds of the National Cathedral. It’s an annual event that takes place right down the street from my school, and, though I’ve taught only a few blocks away for the past seven years, I’ve never had time to experience the mart.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed window shopping at the tents of the vendors. As I looked at the herbs from Willow Pond Farm, I thought about how nice it would be to finally plant that herb garden that’s been on my mind and spirit ever since we purchased our home almost eight years ago, and, in the next moment, I thought I should buy the herbs today and plant an herb garden as a 2010 Mother’s Day gift to myself, my daughters and my mother, who transitioned the Thursday after Mother’s Day in 1996. Planting lavender, oregano, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, cilantro, dill, parsley, sage, and chives would somehow lessen the melancholy I feel around this time of year.
My intention to create an organic, culinary herb garden, connected me with many new and interesting people. There were the elderly owners of Willow Pond Farm in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, home of the Lavender Festival, who sold me the herbs at the Flower Mart. The wife could not contain her laughter when, in response to her suggestion that the most I needed to do was add some fertilizer to my soil because herbs don’t take that much, I responded, “Is potting soil the same as fertilizer?” She gently urged me to email her if I have any questions, and with a chuckle she said, “I’ll remember you.”
As I drove home with my trunk, I mean my tray full of herbs, I saw Rodney busy maintaining Bishop’s yard, the most beautiful yard on our street. Over the years, I’ve run into him in the same exact yard and many a time said, half convincingly, that I want him to help me make my yard into an urban oasis. But the Friday before Mother’s Day 2010 was a new and more urgent day.
I parked my car in my drive way, put some random bags in my house, and immediately proceeded down the hill to humbly ask for what I wanted.
“Guess what I bought today?”
“About a dozen fresh culinary herbs. . . can I hire you to plant me an herb garden for Mother’s Day?. . . Tell me what to get.”
“Get 4 bags of compost and a bag of peat moss and fungicide. . .you can get all of that at Home Depot.”
So the next morning I ended up at Takoma Park co-op rather than Home Depot, because my herbs were organic, and I was adamant that I only wanted organic stuff near them. While at the co-op, an employee offered to call Dr. Nazirahk Amen, a naturopath, acupuncturist, and teacher of meditation and vegan cooking, who supplies much of the co-op’s organic, gardening supplies who would surely be able to answer all of my questions. Instead, I got his wife, who also proved to be quite the expert. I learned from her that peat moss is not always sustainably produced. . . another employee of the coop said he’d heard that some peat moss contains traces of asbestos. Whatever the case, I wanted to know the organic alternative to peat moss since the co-op did not carry it, and I was not interested in driving to multiple stores.
She recommended I purchase Coco Tek, an alternative to peat moss that is 100% organic and made from the fiber of coconuts and, thereby, environmentally friendly. She also added that fungicide would not be necessary with herbs because they produce their own essential oils that ward off pests and diseases. While looking for the coco tek, an energetic, vibrant man with locks past his waist, dressed entirely in purple, came up with a crew who busied themselves with the task of re-stocking the organic gardening supplies, and I immediately realized that I was looking at Dr. Amen of the Purple People. In conversation, he reiterated everything his wife stated on the phone, and I was sold. Moments later two men loaded bags of organic Leaf Pro compost and boxes of Coco Tek into the back of my station wagon.
On Saturday afternoon, Rodney came over for our consultation and to see the materials that I’d purchased. He also looked over the numerous landscaping pictures that I’ve been collecting over the years from home and garden magazines, pictures that I’m drawn to and hope elements of can be incorporated into my yard.
On Sunday, the girls and I awoke to Rodney busily turning over soil. He took his time and mixed the Leaf Pro and the Coco Tek and, even with his expertise, learned a few new things about organic gardening alternatives. After about six hours of soil preparation, with a break to sip on a cup of mint tea and later to enjoy a plate of my seasoned corn, red cabbage, garlic mashed potatoes, pan seared tofu, and vegan golden cornbread, Rodney had completed preparing the ground to receive the potted herbs. He dug holes in the soil, I poured water into the holes, and Niara, my younger daughter, eventually took over removing the herbs from their small pots so that he could transfer them to their new home in the ground.
I’ve been assigned to get a watering pot and more compost so that he can prepare more of the yard to receive more plants.
In the meantime, the kids and I are collecting rocks from the yard, on which to create signage for our garden. The largest one will say “Grandma Diane’s Herbal Garden” while the others will be named for other mothers who have gone before us, who nurture us even from the other side — “Great Great Grandma Willa’s Greek Oregano,” “Great Aunt Eula B.’s Lemon Verbena,” “Great Aunt Robbie’s Rosemary,” “Great Aunt Corrine’s Parsley,” “Great Grandma Odessa’s Sage,” and “Aunt Gertrude’s Dill” just for starters. I can smell them now in breezes and taste them in lemonades and savor them in cookies and feel them in salves.
I’m expecting great things from this garden, namely (re)connection, (the development of) a whole lot of patience, and most of all, nurture. We’ll nurture the garden and the memory of the women in whose honor we’ve created it, and it’ll nurture us back. . .