The beginning of my rootedness wasn’t pretty.
I lived in Portland, Oregon until I was two years old (look at the daffodils behind us) with a good and beautiful princess of an older sister and (eventually) a younger sister. But after my parents moved us to Ethiopia, I never lived in Portland again…until a couple of years ago.
We moved into a house that had been a rental most of its recent life, and the back yard was a mass of weeds including this blackberry thicket. I loved trotting out to pick fresh blackberries. I didn’t yet know–in the words of Oregon.gov–“Armenian blackberry is the most widespread and economically disruptive of all the noxious weeds in western Oregon.”
I’d had a vegetable garden before. When my kids were little, I wanted to share with them the things that had brought me joy as a kid–including my dad’s love of storytelling and tagging along with my dad to the garden in Ethiopia where he rhapsodized about the taste of dirt on a raw potato. Writing Lanie for American Girl, though, had gotten me interested for the first time in how plants could make a difference in your own back yard. I wanted to plant native plants. And I wanted to experiment–not do research and make meticulous plans. Performance anxiety, don’t you know?
The back yard had those blackberries, ivy on the fence, a big bare spot, and several stumps. So I mostly started in the front–with some herbs and a few things my big sister (see beautiful princess above) shared with me.
Here’s how much I was starting at the total bottom:
–I didn’t know to watch my yard for sun and shade and not plant sun-loving plants in shade or vice versa.
–I lovingly spread wood sorrel because I thought it was charming–not knowing it spreads both underground and through pods that build up pressure and then burst, sending the seed flying several feet (and spreading the wood sorrel everywhere).
–I was ignorant about and therefore tolerant of a few other yard thugs, too.
–I thought Portland was rainy year-round.
–I didn’t know there were water loving herbs and dry-loving herbs, and it wasn’t smart to plant them in the same small spot.
–I couldn’t recognize what was coming up in my yard the first spring including…grass.
–I BOUGHT MINT and planted it. Yikes!
Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “Many bright people are really in the dark about vegetable life”–and tells of a friend who asked what she meant when she said, “The potatoes are up.” When Kingsolver explained, her friend said, “Wow. I ever knew a potato had a plant part.” When I was working on Anna Was Here, I knew many of its readers would never have set foot on a farm.
Kingsolver says, “Now it’s fair to say, the majority of us don’t want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children’s books, we don’t quite believe in them anymore.”
I knew about potatoes because of my dad’s vegetable garden when I was growing up in Ethiopia.
But I was still starting from scratch with anything but vegetables–and the beginning wasn’t pretty.