Under the summer sun, a garden ripens and a body grows stronger.
Photo/Art by Illustration by Clare Owen/i2iART
Last summer, my garden was better than any I’ve had in years. I suppose it was a combination of a good amount of rain and a lot of sunny days. The curious thing was that we had so few really hot days and yet I had a bumper crop of both tomatoes and eggplants. They virtually popped off the vine, especially the eggplants, a July miracle in a northern garden. They were gorgeous, deep purple, almost black, shiny as if polished. It seemed that as fast as I picked them, more ripened from behind the modesty of their pale-green leaves, and more of the light-violet flowers emerged to bear more fruit.
In the spring, I was ill and wasn’t sure I would even plant a garden. That would have been a first. I get stubborn about things like that. Determined to make it happen, I went down to my favorite nursery in Northfield, Massachusetts—Fairview Gardens. I’d made this spring pilgrimage for many years, so I knew the owner, Steve, as a result. (Sadly, I’ve recently learned that Fairview Gardens has shut its doors after 50 years in business.) The rain was enough to deter other customers, but, under an umbrella, he went about with me around his extensive outdoor showroom, helping me decide between varieties, placing the six-packs of seedlings into a wheeled cart, and then filling the back of my car with all the young upstarts. They jostled and wagged back and forth all the way home.
A week later, a young man named Jonas came to help me plant—more like he planted and I directed. Still weak, I sat in a chair beside the garden, again in the rain. Wearing a bright-yellow slicker, I felt like an imperious granny as I pointed my cane at the places where I wanted the Swiss chard, the kale, the eggplants, on and on. With gentle direction, Jonas planted well, and, probably because of the rain, the seedlings took quickly and started out on their summer’s journey.
More than ever, I felt great pleasure in looking out the window at this garden’s progress, especially at the zinnias, which rose rapidly and soon bloomed. It seemed that everything in my good earth was on a race to ripeness. Jonas, strong and willing, came every week and pulled the modicum of weeds, watered when necessary, mowed the lawn. With the pink, scarlet, and bright-yellow zinnias in the center, my traditional ring of orange marigolds around the edge (marigolds have always kept pests away), and the squash plants’ enormous, cartoonish yellow blossoms, my garden became a colorful flag of encouragement.
Slowly but surely, by late summer I was out there harvesting, my cane resting against the doorknob. I needed it less and less. I rustled through my collection for the ratatouille recipe, the perfect dish for my burgeoning garden. Everything I needed was right there: eggplants, zucchini, basil, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Garlic, of course. I cut it all into chunks with my big, sharp knife. The kitchen filled with the fragrance of harvest, mostly with the heady scent of the basil. The colorful brew cooked down into a tasty stew. I like to add a hot pepper or two, giving the mix a little bite.
When the crickets start talking in the evening, I know those summer evenings, the ones we think back on when the snow is high, are fewer and fewer. Too chilly to sit out very late. Of all my lifetime of summers, this one was my most challenging. And yet, in a way that’s difficult to explain, one of my most rewarding. I froze some of the ratatouille so I could remember.
Edie Clark is the author of
What There Was Not to Tell: A Story of Love and War.
Order your copy, as well as Edie’s other works, at: