Gardening Matters

Let me just get this off my chest. I don’t really like eating most vegetables. There, I’ve said it. If I were a vegetarian I would die of a virulent strain of rickets. I am basically a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Personally, I blame my mother.

I was raised in the 1950s and early 60s. A truly fresh, garden-grown vegetable rarely graced our table. Basically, my mother didn’t like to cook. She was a working mom and did not relish coming home to a waiting kitchen. She would rather have had a pack of cigarettes and a little scotch and water waiting for her.

According to mom, she worked all day and cooked all afternoon. Then Dad and us kids came in and ate it all up. And she would have to do the same thing the next day.

Mom cooked just enough to keep the Child Welfare people from darkening our door.

What vegetables we ate came from a can or a frozen package. In the summer we occasionally got some fresh corn-on-the-cob, but that was about it. If I want a nostalgic taste of what passed for home cooking at our house, I just open a can of Jolly Green Giant beans and mentally I am back in short pants, my Davey Crockett hat and freckles.

Mom was a great lady in many ways, but cooking was not one of them. However, my late mother-in-law was a great cook. Dorothy Cox was from the Mississippi Delta. She was raised in a culture that could cook dirt and make it taste great. She is responsible for teaching me the joys of fresh green beans and cornbread. May she rest in peace – preferably in a well-equipped kitchen.

When I first started gardening I grew vegetables. I did all kinds of vegetables; okra, squash, potatoes, onions, salad stuff, eggplant, peppers, several types of peas, tomatoes and all kinds of beans. I tried corn once, but without much success. And as much as I enjoyed growing them, I never really warmed up to the eating of most of them.

The modern cooking fashion of barely letting veggies get warm, let alone simmer all day in a pot on the stove, has something to do with this. As a result, most of the produce from my veggie garden was given away to friends or neighbors.

So, after growing mostly veggies for about 15 years, I swung over to growing landscape plants for the last 20 years. And now I am going to let the pendulum swing back a bit. I’m going to add some beans and a few salad items to my existing tomato plants this year. Right now I am debating with myself over whether to grow bush beans or the regular climbing kind. Bush beans won’t take up nearly as much space in my already cramped garden plot. But I’m leaning toward the climbers because the selection of heritage seeds seems to be greater for these types.

What I am after is good old-fashioned green bean flavor. I have grown Kentucky Wonders, but I am curious about other varieties that may be out there. I intend to cook them for three or four hours with a big old hambone or perhaps a little fatback. I am definitely not going to “blanche” them. I’ll throw in a few a fresh cornbread muffins when eating time comes.

If any readers have particular suggestions for climbing green beans that have good old-fashioned flavor, drop me an e-mail at the address below. Meanwhile I’ll just have to settle for some Green Giant canned beans until my crop comes in.

Finally I would be amiss if I did not let you know of the plants available in the Dunwoody Nature Center’s spring plant sale. This year we are offering seven great perennials including Columbine, two kinds of colorful Huecheras, red Texas Sage and other specially selected plants. All plants are natives.

We are also offering some excellent bird seed priced especially for the Dunwoody Nature Center. Information about the plants and bird seed is available at dunwoodynature.org. You can order and pay online. The sale ends April 8.

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at gardeningmatters@hotmail.com.

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