We lost a lot of plants in the pre-Christmas freeze – two days when the temperature dipped into the twenties and stayed there. In Houston, those are Arctic conditions. Some plants were dead above ground only, brown and brittle when I cut them down. A few are more seriously dead and will have to be replaced in the spring. The saving grace of cold weather here is death to mosquitoes. A tiny, hard-to-see species is the most common. They hover like online trolls and my conscience is clear when I slap one and leave a bloody splotch on my arm.
All of which raises another regret associated with our dilettantish attempts at gardening. Mostly we plant shrubs and perennials like firebush and red salvia, to attract hummingbirds. Our luck with vegetables is lousy. As a kid I always grew tomatoes. I can still smell the acrid scent of the plants and feel their hairy stems. I used to eat tomato sandwiches on white bread with butter. They had that satisfying, mineral-rich flavor. Every year I plant tomatoes in pots behind the house and every year the squirrels harvest the bounty. They don’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen, and they leave the patio littered with green and yellow morsels. Don’t talk to me about screening. We’ve tried that.
I found a little consolation (and envy) in a poem by Robert Francis (1901-87), “Tomatoes” (The Orb Weaver, 1960):
“Nature and God by some elusive yet felicitous
Division of labor that I do not comprehend
(Salts of the soil, rain, the exuberant August sun,
Omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence)
Contrived these gaudy fruits, but I was the gardener
And in their lustihood, their hot vermilion luster,
Their unassailable three-dimensionality,
Their unashamed fatness, share the glory and fulfillment.
“Now while the sacrificial knife is in abeyance
They bask and blaze serenely on the sun-splashed sill
For the last perfection of ripeness. A thank offering.
A peace offering. A still life. So still, so lifelike
The fruit becomes the painted picture of the fruit.”
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