For the time being, all but the most resistant of the snow piles have retreated into the darkest and coldest garden corners. This would be a happy prospect. But the rain that washed away the snow revealed all the poles, planks, pots, tools, and general debris left from last year’s gardening.
It’s not really chaos. There are reasons behind why the pots are there. I was called away on another task and forgot them. Those poles and tomato cages were allowed to sit there after clearing out the tomato vines. So see, there is a reason, even if it looks like an abandoned archeological dig with half-exposed artifacts.

Now starts the harried season. It’s not quite warm enough to be comfortable working outside, but you know that all that “stuff” needs picking up so you can start preparing the garden.

Some things have to wait, though. Those items still frozen in place tumble to the bottom of the to-do list, and with frost still in the ground, I can’t spread the wood ashes.

Even though the temperature is not too far above freezing, definitely not a sizzling in the sun day to toss off the work shirt; this stuff needs doing. To put it off too long means more to do when you are ready to put out the spring sugar snap peas, kale, lettuce, spinach, or other early spring crops.

For the non-gardeners among you, It’s also essential to eliminate all that plant waste that you can’t compost because it might contain garden pests eager to eat their way through your young garden.

Inside I am fielding emails from the seed sellers inquiring if I am interested in their new extra special spinach – no, or their blockbuster new tomato? Once again, no. Seeds were purchased in January and February as part of my mental health routine to get through the New England winter.

Now I move on to my next phase, getting ready for spring.

Hidden Countryside

There are three varieties of kale in the garden

 No, they are not relicts of the kale craze of a few years ago. They are there because I learned of kale’s great utility from the Portuguese gardeners I worked with during the 1980s. I also worked with Polish and Italian gardeners as part of developing a program called the Hidden Countryside.

The name Hidden Countryside came from an eighty-year-old Italian American gardener named Annie. The area of the city I was working in was densely built-up and populated. There were no front yards or lawns, and if you didn’t know, you’d believe that this facade was an accurate portrayal of the community. Annie pointed out that all the houses were built directly on the street, but many had generous inner courtyards and yards that could not be seen as you drove by. Inside those hollow squares were the gardens of the residents. As Annie told me: “Luigi, from the outside, it looks very much like a city, but inside is a hidden countryside.”*

It all started with Julia Gelowtsky. 

She invited my lovely assistant and me to lunch. She was not so innocently acting as a matchmaker. Lunch was set on the back porch with a full view of the garden. During lunch, Julia explained that her philosophy of gardening was handed down from her parents, who had immigrated from Poland. Moving up to the second story porch, she pointed out the gardens of her Italian, Portuguese and Irish neighbors. Over the next weeks, the idea of a Hidden countryside program developed as the center of a community program at the library.

I spent several months on the initial research: the Lithuanian priest introduced me to sorrel, I was invited to make wine when the grapes were ripe in one gardener’s arbor. I was instructed in the lore of how to properly plant and care for tomatoes. It was worthwhile work, and what I had been trained to do as an Anthropologist.

My partners in the project, the community members, began to take ownership of the project and direct me into other areas of interest. One Lithuanian lady introduced me to the medicinal uses for rue. She was seconded by Julia on how the Poles used it, and by an Italian gentleman on its use in Italian folk medicine. I was now involved in a new interest in folk medicine and herbology.

I was invited to a local saints day festival. Obtaining a video camera and crew, we plunged into recording and presenting a half-hour documentary to the community.

Eventually, we took an expanded Hidden Countryside and the Saints to Washington

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">In 1988 we all went to the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; Taking the gardens, wine making, and the Saints.In 1988 we all went to the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; Taking the gardens, wine making, and the Saints.

The Hidden Countryside taught me how to garden, look at plants as medicine, revere the Saints, and eventually gave me a wonderful wife.

All because Julia Gelowtsky wanted to be a matchmaker.

*Just for reference only elderly Italian ladies are permitted to call me Luigi!

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