indian dahlia

November in my mom’s garden

17 November 2010

If my mom isn’t in her kitchen, she’s in her garden. In a fantasy world she could retire from cooking, but gardening is indispensable – it’s refuge, meditation, exercise, creative outlet and the key to her good health. Her dream garden is the green version of a dream house. Instead of a carbon footprint, it produces carbon – all kinds of good organic matter into the soil – as well as fresh oxygen into the air. And unlike a house, mom’s well-loved garden only gets better with time.

My mom’s garden has the botanical density of the Amazon rainforest. Nothing gets her more excited than new plants. Like a circus sideshow, she delights in the unusual. The flower pictured above actually sways atop a towering 15-foot stem. Here’s the view looking up.

In my mom’s garden, every blossoming flower is cause for celebration, a birth. She’s currently reveling in this newly-blossomed trumpet flower, which is next to her front door.

And she’s really excited about these potted pepper plants. Bright colors give her joy. It’s an extra bonus that they are also edible.

My mom takes care of her old friends as lovingly as her new ones. Her classic roses and cheerful geraniums have bloomed loyally for decades.

My dad dislikes grass as a water hog in a dry land. My mom thinks grass is boring. Her ground cover looks like this.

Organic gardening takes creativity. Fortunately my engineer dad is all about resourcefulness. My mom and dad carefully net their juicy edibles and hang CDs in fruit trees to scare away the birds. They even have a bucket in their kitchen sink to save “gray” water – from rinsing dishes and vegetables – which they empty into their garden a dozen times a day.

It’s November, and she still has tomatoes ripening. Sweet and juicy early girls are her favorite variety.

They have a giant net over their laden persimmon tree. I had to crawl under to take this picture.

In recent years my mom has discovered a Japanese miracle herb called ashitaba. It comes from a remote Japanese island, where it has been consumed for its health benefits for centuries. Mom got her first plant from a friend, who smuggled it in from somewhere in Asia. Since then she’s become a one-woman ashitaba farm, giving away potted ashitaba to friends and family. She eats a few leaves every day, often in salads, and credits the herb for improving her sleep and reducing post-menopausal abdominal bloating.

Ashitaba is in the foreground; Chinese chives (which old timers here may remember from her chive and shrimp dumplings) are the tall grasslike shoots in the background.

And then there’s the lemon tree. When I was a kid I used to make pitchers of iced tea with Nestea powder and squeeze in a couple of lemons for freshness. A few years ago we were shocked when a friend told my mom the lemon tree is actually an orange tree. But the oranges are very yellow, even when ripe.

Our pediatrician used to tell my mom, when she expressed concern that her kids were so skinny, “You can’t get oranges from a lemon tree.” But mom now waits patiently for her lemons to ripen and squeezes fresh orange juice every morning.

Leave it to my mom to get oranges from a lemon tree. She’s that kind of person.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa 17 November 2010 at 2:05 pm

I love it! Great homage to your mom!


cg 17 November 2010 at 9:54 pm

forgot to take a picture of the lemongrass! i’m such a gardening dummy.


MKJ 17 November 2010 at 6:58 pm

I love you, Chinese Grandma! Once again I am filled with wonder and awe as I read about your Mom’s garden. I just read the July post about your grandmas, don’t know how I missed it then. Wonder and awe again, and respect and tears and pride, too. Proud of being a grandma, too, even without the amazing life journey you shared.
Oh yes, laughter, too. I mistakenly interpreted ‘hanging cd’s in the trees’ as meaning your Mom was playing music to scare away the birds. I laughed when I saw the pic of cd’s hanging in the trees! Very beautiful tribute to your Mother. She’s lucky. You are luckier.
Thank you for sharing.


cg 17 November 2010 at 9:53 pm

i love you too, mkj! you are an awesome mama and grandma with every reason to be proud. =)


Joy 18 November 2010 at 12:29 am

Loa Yang is amazing! She can turn her lemons to fresh orange juice :). I really enjoy reading your blog cg. It’s so much fun, I hope you’ll keep writing this blog forever. I have to say “I am a big fan of Chinese Grandma!”


Joy 18 November 2010 at 12:32 am

Are those Thai chillies? They look spicy!


kristy 18 November 2010 at 1:47 am

I have a swaying indian dahlia in my yard from your mom! and geraniums, and ashitaba – the list goes on and on. And you are so right – this is your mom – a creative genius in the garden who shares the wonders of nature with all around her. I am so enjoying your blog and recipes. Were your ears burning Tuesday when your mom and I had lunch together and we talked about all you kids??? love to you all!


Chrissy Jee 2 December 2010 at 7:48 am

I am also Chinese and this post reminds me so much of my mom and grandmother. We live in NY and the growing season isn’t as long as CA but they both enjoyed spending time tending to the garden. I grew up in upstate NY and my grandmother lived in New York City. Every year she would come and visit for a week in the spring to prepare the garden and a week in the summer to harvest. I love the hanging CD. I’ll have to share this scare tactic with them.


cg 2 December 2010 at 9:28 am

hi chrissy – thanks for taking the time to comment! fun to hear about your mom and grandma – i hope to have the time and patience to garden too when i get to be a real chinese grandma. =) great to hear from you.


Marilyn 21 January 2013 at 5:31 pm

where are you ? in US or Australia… If in Australia, I would like to know where to get the Tomorrow leaves. I read about the benefits of it and would like to plant one.


cg 23 January 2013 at 12:37 am

hi marilyn – i wish i were in oz, lovely country! but i’m in california and unfortunately have no advice on where to find ashitaba in australia. though with the large asian population there, i would think someone would grow it. good luck!


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