– three things I love to do. Come with!
“What happened to your face?” Rosario suddenly asked me the other day. My friend in the dish room at school was deeply concerned about the sunspots on my cheeks. I explained to her that I often get funny pigmentation on my skin in the summertime, underscoring that it was totally fine because I’m actually trying to look like a catcher’s mitt by the time I’m 40.
But seriously, the real reason for my super dark complexion these days is the amount of time I’ve been spending in the student garden here at Greystone. The work can be exhausting, but I consider it an opportunity to get three birds with one stone: gardening, exercise AND some stress-busting vitamin D production all at once.
Located between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail on Deer Park cross road, our two acre garden plot is not impressive at first glance. Started four years ago by a small, dedicated group of students, the student garden is neither well-funded nor perfectly organized. We don’t weed every day. The chain link fences that divide our plot from neighboring vineyards wouldn’t mesh with a landscape architect’s vision for a Napa Valley garden.
Somehow, none of that matters. I’ve wandered the neatly manicured rows of the French Laundry garden, across the street from that temple of haute cuisine in Yountville. I’ve poked around Brix’ beautiful beanstalks and I’ve picked perfect parsley from Plump Jack’s herb garden in Squaw Valley. I love our garden the best, if only because it’s ours.
Our student garden has hay bales all over the place, but we know that hay, when strewn over the rows of plants, will help retain moisture. The fava bean remnants have been laying around for weeks, but that’s only because we were waiting for them to dry out so we could clear the rows easily with a rake. The rose bushes need to be trimmed. Sometimes, the irrigation tape running the length of the rows will spring a leak, and pools of excess water- and weeds- will erupt uninvited.
But when smitten, we see what we want to see, and all I see is beauty.
On days when I feel overwhelmed in the kitchen, I long for the garden. Cooking challenges me, but gardening soothes me. An afternoon in the garden erases bad knife skills, missed plating window times and disappointing dishes. An afternoon in the garden reminds me that cooking is only the final expression of a long, delicate process of coaxing dirt and seed to bear fruit. An afternoon in the garden gives me cotton-candy sweet sungold tomatoes and eggs with golf-ball sized golden yolks. Edible flowers pop with color that begs to brighten my dinner salad. Blackberries tease me with a few winners but mostly still-bitter fruit. I see geese swoop down to the irrigation pond in perfect formation, while our garden manager, Luis, tells me jokes that shake my ribs with laughter.
Do I sound like my father the poet, waxing philosophical about dirt, flowers and weeds? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I suppose. But things are happening in the garden this summer, both with vegetables and flowers, and within me. I feel closer to the person I want to be.
Now if only I could remember to wear sunscreen.
When we have enough of it, we sell our produce at the St. Helena Farmer’s Market. Left: Our price board from the season’s first market in May.