Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Strange Harvest

I'm not sure what the thinking behind it was, but every year, every kid in my elementary school got an order form for garden seeds from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Sounds normal at first, maybe, but this had to be the most quixotic venture of its time--every kid in my elementary school, and every other elementary school in Manhattan, lived in an apartment.  The outer borough kids on their postage-stamp lots were rural compared to us.  We were inner city, with no conceivable use for garden seeds.

Still, the seeds were cheap and everyone else was ordering.  Despite living on the 14th floor, I got in on the action.  Having ponied up 6 or 8 pennies from somewhere, distribution day found me with three buff-colored envelopes of seed in my grubby little hands--nasturtium, morning glory and tomato. I seem to remember spending hours playing with the seeds, first mixing, then separating them. I know I cut a few open to see what could be in there.

Printed on each envelope were cultural instructions--spacing, sun exposure, days to germination.  I memorized these words into a kind of a chant, but they actually meant absolutely nothing to my mind.  More worrisome than how to plant these seeds was where.

I finally hit upon a plan, comical in recollection, but the result of serious consideration by my seven-year old self.  I would plant the seeds in the park.  To prevent dogs peeing on the flowers or strangers eating my tomatoes, I would plant them out of harm's way--under a bush.

Getting to the park was easy. I was often taken to play at the Soldiers and Sailor's monument, an acre of white marble in Riverside park.  There, under a particularly large bush by the foot of the stairs, I dug with a stick, then dumped all the seeds in one hole. Every later visit found me darting under that bush--behavior peculiar enough to be remarked, then forbidden.  Not, of course, that anything actually grew under the bush.

Another year, another order form. This time, my plan centered on my dad.  He lived "in the country" (a rented garage-apartment in Greenwich Connecticut) and sometimes took us there on custodial Sundays. Not a man inclined to extra work--his idea of Sunday was to snap at anyone who woke him--I can only imagine the kind of whining I must have put up for him to ultimately plant one packet of the seeds outside his rented digs, four o'clocks, this time.

My dad had no more idea than I about planting seeds, because the four o'clocks all sprouted up from the same single hole.  However, at least there was sunlight, and my first visit on Greenwich Sundays was always that side of the house. Then one day, there was no dense tangle of green: there was nothing.  The landlord had pulled them for weeds. A half-century later,  a little ember of grief still burns for having never seen the flowers.

After this, I bought no more seeds.  Instead, I thought it over for a long time.  The only solution I could see was owning my own patch of land. This may sound like an obvious ambition, but it arose from much thought, and was an absolutely novel concept, original with me.  We had never lived in anything but rented apartments, as most of my family do to this day.

The first shovel went into the ground here in 1984. Yet, the first seeds of this garden were planted in 1962--planted under a bush in Riverside park when some quixotic soul at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden promoted garden seeds to Manhattan school kids.  A large garden and a lifetime interest--a strange harvest to pour out of a little buff envelope.

No comments :

Post a Comment