Tag Archives: Rain

Sweet Tea, Storms & Savoir-Faire

Old Italian Woman GardeningAlmost two years ago I decided I wanted a vegetable garden.  I was tired of growing tomatoes in large pots on my deck.  I’m Italian/Sicilian and we’re supposed to grow our own veggies and make homemade pasta sauce – and I do, but now I wanted to do that on a larger scale.  And I wanted to one day be the proverbial little old Italian lady in the neighborhood that spent all day in her garden and was always up to something, albeit in stilettos and a sundress!

With my flower garden just about complete I began researching how to build a vegetable bed.  I didn’t like any of the ideas I saw and the ones I did like were far too expensive.  So, like many times before in my life, I set out to do it ‘my way’.   I went to the lumber store and let my imagination run wild.  I asked two employees for some help and explained to them what I wanted to do.  One gentleman was very eager to assist me and began giving me quite detailed instructions on how to build a vegetable bed that I’m certain would have resembled the Taj Mahal.  Another employee suggested I just visit the produce section at Wal-mart.   Somewhat discouraged, I thanked them for their time and decided I was going to have to do this completely on my own.  As I was leaving, I saw a large pile of wood outside that I thought would be perfect for my project.  They were landscape timbers and because they were ‘less than perfect’ they were marked down in price.  Now, I am a master in the fine art of negotiating, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. I’m also a single mom on a budget tighter than bark on a tree, so I was going to have to really work my magic to get the 15 landscape timbers I needed for my vegetable bed for less than $1 each.   I think it was Lord Chandos that once said, “Flattery is the infantry of negotiation.”  And I would have to agree.

Before I put my negotiation skills into high gear, I made a quick trip to McDonald’s.  I had a gift card that someone had given me and I used it to buy three large sweet teas.  If you aren’t from the south, Sweet Tea is considered the “house wine” of the south and many will argue it is the only way to drinkSouthern Sweet Tea tea.  I’m a California girl, but I have to agree, there is no other way to drink tea. None.   So, with my latest acquisition in hand, I returned to the lumber store and went up to the three gentleman working outside.  Before I continue, let me add that if you approach three men working outside in July, in Alabama where we have humidity higher than a 1950’s beehive hairdo and you are bringing them sweet tea with ice, you could ask them to do just about anything and they will say ‘yes’.    I gave them their drinks and explained that I needed 15 landscape timbers.  They showed me the ones that were in perfect condition but I explained that I wanted the ‘misfits’ – the ones no one else wanted.  One of the guys laughed and commented that he had seen me in here before, and how I always head to the back of the store where the almost dead plants are.  He wanted to know why I did that.  I explained to him that as long as there is still a sign of life, then they deserve a chance.  I suppose it’s a little silly, but it makes me sad to see all those plants sitting on racks about to be tossed away because they aren’t as pretty as some of the other ones.  And I enjoy bringing them back to life, often in as little as a week. I also see it as a challenge and I most certainly love a challenge.   If you have seen pictures of my garden in my previous blog posts, I want you to know that all those flowers, every single one, were almost on their last legs when I planted them – yes, even the roses.  I have bought plants that were originally priced at $15 to $20 for $.75 – and some I have been given for free.  They are now all blooming and beautiful.

The men told me they wouldn’t feel right selling the ‘misfit’ timbers to me because in some way they were damaged.  I told them not to worry about it, that I knew what I was doing (I didn’t) and then I asked them to make me an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse.  They laughed and asked if I had ever seen “The Godfather”.  I showed them the Italian flag sticker on the back of my truck and jokingly told them I had cement blocks and rope in the back and asked them if we could hurry this along or they would be ‘sleeping with the fishes’.  When all was said and done, I left with twenty not so perfect landscape timbers – total cost: $5.  To this day, they refer to me as the ‘sweet tea lady’ – it’s funny how some friendships are formed in the most unique ways.

That was almost two years ago.  Those timbers sat in the side of my yard through countless rain storms and through many of my life’s storms, just waiting to be put to use.  And last week their time had arrived.  Armed with a hammer and some very large nails, I set out to build my vegetable bed.  I had planted some vegetables from seed earlier in the year and they were more than ready to be put into the ground.  I learned very quickly that hammering nails the size of cigars into wood takes a lot of muscle.  My project was going to be a little more labor intensive than I thought.  From start to finish, it took me three days to complete and as much as I hate to admit it, the last part of my Roseanna Borellivegetable bed was completed by a few neighborhood kids that I have known since they were five years old.  On their way home from school, they heard me ‘talking’ quite loudly to one of the nails that refused to go in straight and  they came over, while laughing, to see what was going on.  Before I knew it, the negotiation tables had been turned.  They said if I made them baked ziti for dinner, they would finish the vegetable bed and mow my lawn, front and back.  I’m no fool, I knew I was coming out on the sweet end of this deal, so I agreed, of course, letting them think they were the winners in this negotiation.

My vegetable bed is now complete and I can’t wait to construct a second one very soon.  I’ve planted three varieties of cherry tomatoes, some red bell peppers and of course, lots of herbs. There is even a climbing rose-bush as the back drop.  At the request of the boys that helped, I’ve also planted spinach and the second bed will have watermelons.  I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this project, how it got the kids involved.  They feel a sense of accomplishment in having helped me that day and I’ve seen them walk past the vegetable bed on their way home from school to see how the plants are doing.  You just can’t get that kind of feeling from a video game.

I know not everyone enjoys gardening, but everyone needs to have that one thing that they can just lose themselves in.  For me, gardening is like playing – I’m a child again.  I am curious, creative, messy, I try new things knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no big deal.  Why do we lose that as adults?  We need to tap into our inner child every chance we get, I don’t care how old you are.  Two days ago it was pouring rain and I was sad because I wanted to be outside in my garden.  And then I realized, so what if it’s raining, I’m not sugar, I won’t melt.  So out I went in the rain and walked around my garden in bare feet getting soaking wet – and I loved it.   I picked some roses, checked on my newly planted vegetables and even purposely stepped in some puddles – itPlaying in the Rain was fun – the silly kind of fun that I don’t think adults participate in nearly enough.  But I do, every chance I get.  One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou, and one that holds quite a bit of truth, is this, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”  Now, all of you know how I handle a rainy day.  When I arrived in Italy years ago and a day before my luggage did, I used that as an opportunity to put my limited knowledge of the Italian language to use and set out on the streets of Rome to find all the things I would need for the next 24 hours.  I did this alone – my first time in another country and I didn’t know a soul.  It was the most empowering and liberating experience I’ve ever felt and I loved every second of it.  And tangled Christmas lights, let’s just say that I rival Clark Griswold in that department and that’s definitely another story for another day.  Maybe a rainy day after I’m done splashing in the puddles.



Filed under Mia Giardino Bella (Gardening)

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~H. Rion

There are not many things I’d rather do than spend time writing and workingGarden Path in my garden.  I use the term ‘working’ loosely, as I hardly consider anytime spent in my garden as work.   After being a mom, chauffeur, laundress, ATM and severe negotiator (I have a teenager), if I can make time in my day for a little gardening and writing, than life is good.  I once read a quote by H.E. Bates that went something like this…

Gardens… should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises and then still more curves.” 

What a perfect analogy of a garden.  I keep that in my mind every time I’m outside and get the urge to change things up a bit in mine.  Paths are often given new turns, usually as the result of flowers popping up in the most unexpected of places – one of the many things I love about my garden.

My garden is constantly evolving – a ‘work in progress’ if you will.  No matter how much it changes, I have always tried to keep an “English Garden” appearance to it.  Currently, I’m working on achieving a  “Mary’s Garden”.  IfIMAG0504 you’re Catholic, you know exactly what this means.  It is a Catholic tradition to acknowledge and honor the unselfish and holy life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages, missionaries and travelers spread stories across Europe about flowers named after Mary during various times of her life. Mary Gardens that featured these flowers became popular there, and later the tradition made its way to America. Around 1932 it is believed that the first Mary Garden in the United States was constructed on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church in the Woods on Cape Cod.

There isn’t an official list of flowers for a Mary’s Garden, but there are some basic guidelines.  The center focus of the garden is a statue of Our Blessed Lady.  Currently in my garden, St. Francis of Assisi is standing in for Mary.  The garden can be any size and shape.  My garden includes the following flowers in honor of Mary…

  • Roses~ I have 12 rose bushes and I consider them my other ‘babies’.  They are not the “knock-out” roses that any moron can grow.  These are authentic award-winning roses.  At the risk of sounding like a pretentious gardening snob, they are beautiful.  The rose symbolizes Mary as the Queen of Heaven.   Roses and lilies were said to have filled Mary’s empty tomb when it was opened by the Apostles. Roses are also associated with SS. Dorothy and Thérèse of Lisieux, who both send roses from Heaven.  St. Francis once threw himself on the thorns of a rosebush as penance. Since then, the rose bushes in that garden (near the cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi) have no thorns.
  • ImpatientsImpatients~ Our Lady’s Earrings
  • CarnationsLegend says that the carnation bloomed on the night of Jesus’ birth; a sign of Mary’s joy at the Child’s birth.
  • Daisy~ To me,  daisies are such a happy and friendly looking  flower. It is said that when the wise men reached Bethlehem they looked for a further sign to guide them to the new king. King Melchior saw a white and gold flower and knew which building to enter.
  • Rosemary~ I have two rosemary bushes and aside from their origins regarding Mary, this is a wonderful addition to my pasta sauce.  It is believed that Mary hung the linens of the Holy Child on the rosemary bush to dry. Afterwards, the bush carried a sweet aroma.
  • Petunias~ Lady’s Praise
  • Ivy~ Where God Has Walked
  • Snapdragons~  These represent the Baby Jesus’ shoes
  • Marigold~ Early Christians placed marigolds around statues of Mary in place of coins calling them Mary’s gold.
  • Chrysanthemums~  These are also called the All Saint’s Flower – This flower is believed to have been present when Christ was laid in the tomb.

My garden path

There are dozens of other flowers one can plant in their “Mary” garden.  I’ve only listed the ones I have.   There is also a ‘visitor’ that one can hope will spend some time in their Mary Garden.  Once referred to as “Our Lady’s Birds” , they are better known now as  ladybugs.  They are named for Mary when they miraculously came to save crops from aphids. The red color of the ladybug is symbolic of her red cloak, and the seven black spots represent her seven sorrows.  Throughout the world, ladybugs are regarded as  “good luck” and a welcome visitor to any garden.

With no rain in the forecast for the next 36 hours, I’m going to spend some time today in my garden.  I am almost finished constructing my vegetable bed.   It’s the first one I’ve ever built and aside from a sore thumb, a few nails that decided they wanted to be curvy, and one side of the bed being just a touch lop-sided, it doesn’t look half bad.   My neighbor just laughs when he sees me covered in dirt as I tackle my latest project, but being outside is my therapy – my little escape from whatever it is I need a respite from.  That and writing.

Oh, and a little reminder for those of you struggling with your gardens, a prayer or two to St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, may bring some much-needed divine intervention!

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.” ~Christopher Lloyd



~All Photos Were Taken Yesterday In My Garden~


Filed under Mia Giardino Bella (Gardening)