FloraQuest 2011: If We Cantelope, Lettuce Marry!

Our yard gets a lot of shade, in front and in back. I grow shade flowers, but I’ve never been able to grow vegetables, since trees and shrubs and fences conspire to exclude every shaft of sunlight from our scrap of the world. The house next door, though, has a blissfully sunny plot with two deeply friable raised beds and the capacity to produce enough tomatoes to flauntingly share. With regard to vegetables, my envy was my only green attribute.

Then late last fall, the family that had been living there for nearly a year fled foreclosure. Knowing they couldn’t make their monthly payments, one fine morning (well, over a few days, but it was still awfully sudden) they hightailed it back to Morocco. My only thoughts at first were disappointment at not having been able to make better friends with them (I would’ve been able to practice my newly-good French!), and sadness that they had lost their home. But then, a few weeks ago, I saw a new side to it. My sister and I were poking around feebly in our own meager vegetable plot, hoping to get a few spinach leaves before the trees leafed out fully and stamped out the sunlight, when suddenly she stopped and looked up, a light bulb almost visible over her head. She scurried around the fence with an air of triumph. With a dandelion digger in one hand and a rake in the other, she began preparing the neighbors’ fallow vegetable bed for spring crops. Gleefully, wordlessly, she presented me with a dandelion root nine inches long and more than an inch in diameter. I understood her perfectly: “If this bed can produce WEEDS of this quality, imagine the VEGETABLES we can get by ILLICITLY GARDENING here!” Even the dandelion was pretty tasty. I have high hopes for our plantings.

We spent ten hours taking out weeds and turning the soil. There was a nearly continuous carpet of false wild strawberry over the other bed, all connected by evil, brittle runners. There was also an attack rosebush which tried its best to assassinate my valiantly-pruning sister with its weaponized thorns, but she survived the onslaught and the bush is now collaborating with our occupation. We added new soil, put in slow-release fertilizer, and sowed lettuce, spinach, pea, and radish seeds. We watered in the seeds and laid down plastic to help them germinate. We waited. Now many of the seeds have sprouted, and we have high hopes that before long we’ll be able to sample our first tasty harvests.

The foreclosure hasn’t been finalized yet, and the home is still far from being back on the market. And anyway, aren't we doing a service to the bank and the neighborhood? Lettuce and spinach are at least handsomer than weeds, right? We’re confident that we should at least be able to get a full spring’s worth of vegetable gardening done before our coup is put down. Still, there’s a certain risky feeling involved. A few days ago a man from the water company came to turn off the house’s water, and when my sister and I saw the white van and its uniformed driver pull up to the house, we looked at each other with more than a touch of anxiety in our eyes. Would we have to surrender our hard-won territory before it even yielded a crop? But that’s par for the course, I guess, and no doubt it is indeed a large part of the considerable fun we are having.

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