Every year, I head over to the Long Island Cauliflower Association with my friend Michael who is a native of Greenport. He has a garden across the street, which serves as an annex for my restaurant’s garden at The Greenporter Hotel.
Although Michael and I are great friends, we have many disagreements throughout the planting season. What to grow, where to plant and world views. Michael has right-wing political views that express profound disdain for globalization and I am a libertarian who is a product of the G-word. Nevertheless, our lives intersect at the garden as we plan the layout, buy seeds and plant together. Michael’s section of the garden is an homage to his uncle Joe, a native of Sicily, and to his mother’s family who emigrated from the Ukraine to Long Island. My part of the garden represents bits of my life that start in the Midwest as the granddaughter of immigrants as well as to the different parts of my life around the world where I lived and traveled.
Michael grows eggplant, tomatoes and cabbages as he recounts the family dinners of gnocchi and sauce, stuffed cabbage and Easter bread. I grow aji peppers and cilantro in the memory of my grandmother from Puerto Rico along with soy beans and rhubarb from my childhood in Ohio. I surround it with lavender beds that remind me of evenings in the French country side. The garden is a place where we can preserve our heritage and the memories of family and dear friends we miss. It’s a place where we can propogate our culture and values.
Two weeks ago, I was in Ohio visiting my family and my mother gave me some arugula seeds and asked me to plant them. She said they were from the garden of her best friend and neighbor, Lucy, whose family immigrated from Naples 100 years ago. Lucy passed away last year and my mother misses gardening with her, canning tomotoes and all the meals they shared together. This summer, I will plant her arugula seeds in my garden on the North Fork while I bicker with Michael over politics and composting. Together we will continue to be very different people as we garden and plan our next clamming excursion on Hallock’s Bay or berry-picking time along Moore’s Lane. In the garden we will work together, as we both strive to stay close to the memories that made us who we are.
For more about gardening, read book review by Seasoned Fork contributing editor, Natalia de Cuba Romero, The Earth Knows My Name