How Does Your Garden Grow

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

English nursery rhyme

June was lucky I discovered the decapitated tiger lilies when I did. I was on my way out the gate to pick her up at school on Wednesday morning when I glanced over in their direction and realized with a sick feeling exactly what that little pile of buds I’d seen in front of the house earlier that day had been. I hadn’t given the buds much thought. June is constantly picking flowers and leaves and collecting pebbles and acorns. The whole outdoors is her garden and she is always harvesting.

I had the whole fifteen-minute walk to swallow my fury and get it under control. It wasn’t her fault, I told myself. She didn’t know those stalks weren’t weeds. She didn’t know she shouldn’t pick them. She didn’t know that after the daffodils, the tiger lilies are my very favorite flower in our front yard. She’d left half of them intact, but that was small comfort. I didn’t say anything to her about the tiger lilies at pickup, or as we walked home. We stopped at her favorite acorn-collecting place and while we were there the Yellow Tulip and her mom and little brother caught up with us. They walked the rest of the way home with us, and when we got home I ran up to the porch to fetch a cucumber seedling I’d promised her mother. We’d started our garden in pots back in mid-April and I ended up with nine healthy cucumber vines and ten watermelon vines; I gave away eight of the watermelons and four of the cucumbers so we would not be over-run with more produce than we can consume this summer. I had a better idea of how many cucumber vines to keep, as the watermelons are an experiment. Every year our garden gets a little bigger. This year our new crops are blackberries, cherry tomatoes, corn, okra and watermelon.

As soon as the Yellow Tulip and her family were out of earshot I led June over to the tiger lilies. “Do you see these?” I pointed to nearly a dozen broken stalks.

“Yes, I picked a lot of those!” she said cheerfully.

I explained patiently that she should not pick any more, that the remaining ones will turn into beautiful orange flowers but the ones she broke off will not. She theorized that they could grow back. I said I didn’t think so and I told her from now on she should check with me or with Beth before picking anything other than dandelions in the yard. I collected the buds and put them in water on the kitchen windowsill in hopes that at least a few would bloom that way. Noah saw them when he got home from school and asked what they were. I told him. Maybe she should ask before she picked anything in the yard, he suggested. Later that evening Beth tried to reinforce the same message. June must have gotten tired of hearing it because she was not receptive. “This is how it is,” she said. “I will do what I want.” Four can be a very trying age. So far I haven’t ended up sitting down on a sidewalk in public and crying as I once did when Noah was four, but it may just be a matter of time.

Thursday June brought Beth and I bouquets of authorized flowers from the yard—white clovers and purple thistles. I put them in water next to the tiger lily buds. I’d like to think it was an act of contrition, but that might be overly optimistic.

Yesterday we picked mulberries. June had noticed the mulberries ripening on a walk to Starbucks two weeks ago and had been planning this outing ever since, waiting for the berries to reach the proper level of ripeness and deliberating over which basket she would take. After Sesame Street was over, we left the house, June swinging the multi-colored paper towel-lined Easter basket and chattering excitedly. On the way to the appointed trees, she wondered, should we pick berries before or after our visit to Starbucks? (I wasn’t going to get that close without a cappuccino.) Maybe after, I suggested, so we wouldn’t have to carry the berries as long. No, before, she said. I wondered why she’d asked in the first place, but I went along with it.

About a block before we reached the trees, which grow right outside the brick wall surrounding the Langely Park shopping center, we saw another mulberry tree on the lawn of an apartment building. June considered it, but I said no. There were men pruning bushes and trees nearby and I didn’t want to get in their way. She asked if she could have just one berry so I picked one for her.

Finally we arrived at the official mulberry-picking trees. There were a few branches low enough for her to reach or for me to tug gently down to her level, but mostly I had to hold her up. Soon the basket was lined with berries and her face was smeared purple. We went to Starbucks, came back and as we passed the trees again she suggested we pick some more, so we did. Then we passed the apartment building and one of the men who had been pruning saw her basket and said she could pick some berries from their tree if she wanted. I thanked him and said we had enough. Come back anytime he offered and identified himself as the owner of the building.

That night at dinner, I sprinkled mulberries on Beth’s and my salads and put a little pile next to June’s cucumbers and carrots. She didn’t eat any of them, but the next morning she was begging to go pick mulberries again. I told her we needed to finish the ones we’d picked before we went for more.

Later in the day June went looking for mushrooms in the yard. She likes to cut the stems off and leave the caps on colored paper overnight so she can see the delicate gill patterns the fallen spores leave on it. There were no mushrooms to be found today, though.

I did pick some lemon balm and cilantro. We planted these herbs last year and we have some volunteers in the garden, a little bit of cilantro and a lot of lemon balm. Ironically, I never picked the lemon balm last year, which is probably why it’s back and so profuse. I had no idea what to do with it so I let it go to seed. I picked about a half dozen leaves and tried them in iced green tea this afternoon but it didn’t change the taste of the tea perceptibly. I need to do some more research on it. Cilantro is less puzzling. It topped our black bean chili tonight.

We also have lettuce ready to pick. It has looked edible for a couple weeks but we decided to let it get well established before we picked any. I think this is the week we’ll stop buying lettuce at the farmers’ market and start eating our own.

It’s exciting to be able to pick a few things from the garden, though right now mostly it’s a locus of futurity. We have sunflowers about half as tall as June, zinnias starting to shoot up, tomatoes flowering, and cucumber, watermelon, okra and green been seedlings all looking healthy and hopeful. And just tonight Beth, Noah and June planted corn while I did the dinner dishes. There’s also second bed of lettuce and cilantro planted and basil, just starting to poke out of its pot as well as some cleome and delphiniums struggling in theirs. It’s unclear how well they will do as we planted those flowers a long time ago and most of them didn’t germinate. The edamame and broccoli we planted in April never sprouted either, but that’s okay. We’re amateurs and the garden is one big experiment. Some plants die; some flourish; some meet untimely ends at the hands of a little girl quite contrary. And as Beth reminded me as I was moping about my poor tiger lilies, there’s always next year.