Bio Note: I garden with my husband Will Zarwell in Eagle Heights Community Gardens where we raise vegetables and, this year, a dozen or more sunflowers feeding the goldfinch flocks. Panic Season (Tebot Bach, Sept. 2022) is my most recent collection of poems.
French Intensive Bioenergetic Gardening
-for Sue, my sister gardener at University Houses Long ago when our husbands traveled we double-dug raised beds, a project requiring twenty person-hours, planted close and neighborly species to yield kohlrabi bigger than our fists, cauliflowers bigger than our heads, broccoli branching all season long, ragged lines of hair-thin leeks swelling to sweet fat stalks, weeding out nettle, Velvet Leaf, and thistle for the compost pile— I used the spading fork I’d given my spouse for his birthday and we listened to the emeritus dean advise on watering tomatoes, not to splash the leaves, and The Moosewood Cookbook guided us to seasoning vegetarian soup with dill and fennel and garlic in the cook's own loopy handwriting, and we planted marigolds to discourage pests— somewhere along the way I was divorced and kept the spading fork, and it was the garden that sustained me; every fall harvest of potatoes required a soup-making party, scrubbing, peeling, chopping. Friends multiplied. I found a sweet new man, a fellow gardener; my children grew to men. I learned to bake. Today my sons and I exchange tomato photos, recipes for pickled vegetables, leek soup. And you, friend, praise works of art, raise a sculptured back yard of flower beds.
In our garden they grow tall and prolific, gift that our friend Gretel grew from seeds she’s saved across the years—bright red globes too large to be Sweet One Hundreds, too small to be Celebrities, open-pollinated descendants of ones grown by Alan Chadwick, original guru of Biodynamic French Intensive gardening, at the college where Gretel gardened with him so long ago— non-patented, non-hybrid, bred by our local bees in that open-hearted gift economy we practice with the share shelf.
For Us, What Eden?
for Will I consider again a flat of native prairie plants—little bluestem, turkey-foot, blazing star—although the only space is filled with tree roots. Still, much thrives— branching brown-eyed Susans, goldenrod, coneflowers and bergamot feed the bumblebees after April bows to our hope for a host of daffodils— and wild indigo towers over the purple winter-creeper now frankly growing straight up to launch itself across the driveway to new territory. We live in the Eden of polar vortex, summer heat; our snakes but narrow fellows in the grass; our squadrons are flights of sparrows, cardinals perched in brilliant reds, nuthatch and chickadee darting in and out the flocks of purple grackles and red-winged blackbirds led by our blue-jay family to the feeder; and on the ground, mourning doves and juncos scratch at seed spills, explode to the yews and phlox under the shadow of the hawk. Each morning you bring me coffee, fill the feeders, promising this late-life love.
©2022 Robin Chapman
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