A Piece of Fertile Ground



I planted four varieties of tomatoes and four kinds of peppers, including hot and spicy. Cucumbers run along a small green fence and several blueberry plants hold tight to the lattice behind the shed. Along the path to the new garden area are peas and beans in pots and just at the entrance to the new sitting area inside the garden are several pots of container-size lettuce, which looks a lot like romaine.

I’m craving salad right now. I might put a small refrigerator out there stocked with various Newman’s Own Salad Dressings.

In the new area are the ground/vine varieties, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and squash, as well as more cucumbers and a few large pots for cherry tomatoes. I’m also about to hang several containers of various sweet pepper plants on shepherd’s hooks along the way.

I have always had some vegetables running alongside the shed, behind it under the window, and on various tables and garden stands. But this year I decided to finally cut through a fallen tree in the woods and open up the clearing inside what used to be a fort, a young boys play area. There were planks of wood and two by fours, a hand-made box buried in the ground for storage, long vines and sticks intertwined like lattice for fences, and although most had fallen over, they still held together just fine. Michael read about how to make them in WW1 books and survival books by Bear Grylls. He was only eight or nine at the time (Michael, not Bear).

I took two chairs from another sitting area and moved them to the new clearing, and I rested thinking about what to grow. It is the hardest part, knowing what will take and what won’t, what will need a lot of nuturing and what can make it on its own. I have rain barrels scattered about so watering will be easier during dry periods, but I finally learned that for the best pollination there should be several plants of the same kind near each other. Even plants need companionship. I got tired of year after year having amazing beautiful yellow flowers on the squash vines but no squash growing. Now it should be fine.

When Michael was very young the garden was on the other side of the house and I worked in it until he would find me, ask if I wanted to see what he did in his fort, and then I’d stand right about where the cucumbers are now and he’d explain the changes, why he made them based upon the best fortification on the No-Mans-Land side of the fort (the woods to the south), and what his plans were when he had a chance to “pick up more materials.” Then he’d asked if I wanted to explore with him, and we would, walking through the woods for hours checking out osprey and eagles nests above us, fox dens at the end of long-fallen oaks, and animal tracks including raccoon, deer, opossum, and more.

Like it was yesterday I recall standing on a fallen tree as I noticed how fast he was growing. I always stood on the same spot when he showed me his progress, so I was able to measure him against a thin dogwood to the rear of the fort. One day I noticed for the first time how high up the trunk he had grown despite the fact the tree had also sprouted. He spent the vast majority of his youth and young adult years outside, much of it in the fort, and I believe he is healthier both physically as well as mentally as a result. He has never had trouble finding peace of mind. He grew well here.

Where there is now a slate patio with wrought iron furniture, was once a stack of tree trunks—dozens and dozens of them. When I had the area for the house and driveway cleared, they placed the trunks in a pile in that area so that I could use the wood later for the fireplace or other projects. I cut up several dozen cords before I made the slightest dent, so over the course of several years it became overgrown with weeds—and lizards. All sorts of lizards, fence swifts, salamanders, and more. Michael would grab his net and stand there, carefully climbing, looking for more reptiles to add to his aquarium on the table behind the fort where I now do my replanting. On a nice summer day he might have hunted lizards for hours, catch them, feed them, and then a few days later let them go. He left berries for them, of course, just in case they had already “acclimated to domesticity” as he once conveyed to me.

I sat at the slate patio where those logs used to be and thought about how long ago those years were; almost two decades. I looked at the house we built and remembered how when this was all woods I came out and taped off the area to be cleared. Then my dad and I came up here and he helped me stake out where I wanted the footings to go for the foundation. We measured it out together and talked about how centrally located the place is—not too far from DC, from Richmond, from Virginia Beach. We talked about the soil and I said how I had hoped things would grow well there; I was worried that being so close to the river and the bay made the ground a bit sandy and the nutrients might be questionable.

But as it turns out, things grow just fine here; they always have.


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