Green thumbs turned brown

Posted 7/27/22

When I was a teenager in the mid-’60s, my bedroom windowsills were lined with plants (two of which were pot—full disclosure). I grew wandering Jew, spider, jade and cacti, among others.

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Green thumbs turned brown


When I was a teenager in the mid-’60s, my bedroom windowsills were lined with plants (two of which were pot—full disclosure). I grew wandering Jew, spider, jade and cacti, among others. I had been introduced to caring for and nurturing plants by my brother, Buzz, and his wife Wendy. I found that I had a green thumb and was delighted. 

Fast-forward two decades to when my sister Janet and I were first renting our house in the Catskills. We were weekenders, and gardening was an iffy affair for many reasons. Flowers planted by the previous owners would sprout up, and those we set in the ground were hit-and-miss regarding their growth. The soil was lousy, and we didn’t have the money or inclination to have it tested.

When some local friends surprised me by setting up a small, enclosed garden abutting the house, I started a vegetable and herb garden. At first I only planted tomatoes and lots of herbs: Thai and sweet basil, tarragon, chives, mint, thyme, sage, oregano and flat-leaf parsley. I paid a neighbor’s son to water the garden during the week. He wasn’t diligent, and without our knowledge his mom, a close friend, took over the job. To this day, I don’t know who pocketed the money we were doling out.

As for the other garden areas on our property, we found it difficult trying to coax them to flourish. It seemed our thumbs were turning more brown than green, as were our plants and flowers. 

Janet kept copious notes on what, where and when various flowering plants or succulents were planted, but the mysteries of nature were evident as we witnessed certain developments. An array of plants never bloomed or died, never to return, then pushed through the earth a year later. Sometimes we dug a hole for a plant where we thought nothing had ever succeeded, then come spring we had two plants one nearly atop the other.  

Growing from seed was a total disappointment. I attempted to grow poppies (a favorite), sunflowers, wildflowers, and zinnias, to no avail. Meanwhile, bushes, plants and flowers planted in the 1970s by the previous owners were popping up hither and yon. Our “gardens” were an unorganized mess that frustrated us and brought little joy and much confusion. Janet, who is a master weeder, had trouble distinguishing plants from weeds and her meticulous notes unraveled.

At one point after we had moved into the house permanently, about six years ago, we bought a beautiful hand-crafted wooden bench. We set it directly under our front porch. On it we set three enormous pots in which I planted flowers. Alongside them, on the ground, I set medium-sized pots filled with yellow dahlias, rose-colored double impatiens, begonias and petunias. In the back of the house, we planted tall flowering plants. Among them were zinnias in bright yellow, pink, peach, orange and red, to cut and bring into the house so we would have bouquets to set in vases of handblown glass or multi-colored pottery we brought back from Mexico. Things started to look up.

The gardens take work. Weeds and tiny stones pop up through the surface of the soil, particularly after a night of rain. It’s annoying to work a couple of hours kneeling, pulling and plucking only to have to repeat the process a week later. 

We started using compost in the past couple of years and saw a miraculous change in the growth and health of our plants. Nurturing and watching the evolution of the gardens is now a joy. We lucked out this year, in that from the middle of May moving forward it looked like the temps would be high enough to ward away a frost. I was able to start planting my vegetable and herb garden earlier than ever before. I planted seven varieties of (mostly) heirloom tomatoes; slim, thin-skinned Persian cucumbers and zucchini. I’m vigilant about keeping an eye on the latter two. I can’t stand a cuke or zucchini longer than about seven inches long and an inch and a half wide in size. How many times have you gotten a zucchini the size of your forearm, only to find it mealy and inedible? 

Chives, mint and thyme return every year and I’ve added spicy globe basil and dill along with the usual suspects. Fresh herbs transform my cooking by adding so much flavor. While weeding this week, I saw that each of my tomato plants already has branches hung with tiny green specimens. It’s exciting to watch as they grow and eventually become ripe. Oh, the plans I have for all of those tomatoes!

Meanwhile, Janet and I have noticed that our thumbs have lost their brownish hue, and we believe we have recovered the green thumbs of gardening that eluded us for too many years.

Herb frittata

This herb frittata lets garden herbs shine.
This herb frittata lets garden herbs shine.

Serves 4

If you do not have an herb garden or all of the herbs listed below, just use as many as you have on hand. But the more the merrier.

8 large eggs

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon

1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme

1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary

1 teaspoon finely chopped dill

1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cheese, herbs, sundried tomatoes, salt and pepper until well combined. 

Heat the oil over medium heat in a 9-inch nonstick skillet. 

Pour the egg mixture into the pan and lift the edges of the frittata as it sets to allow the uncooked egg to reach the surface of the pan. 

Meanwhile, turn the broiler on. 

Cook the frittata until the eggs are set on the bottom and the frittata is lightly browned, about 5-10 minutes. 

Wrap the handle of the skillet with aluminum foil. 

Slide the skillet under the broiler for 3–5 minutes or until the eggs are set and the top is lightly browned. 

Slide the frittata onto a large serving plate and serve hot or at room temperature. 

recipe, plants, gardening, cooking, story


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