I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, in prototypical suburbia. The lawns were green, except for ours—it was constantly changing, an unplanned jumble of fruit trees, bunch grasses, gravel, gingko trees, hot peppers, evening primrose, invading mint, and a single mound of Korean grass perfect for an elfin chair. Our neighbor (of the perfectly manicured rosebushes and potted geraniums) hated us. The median strip became a battleground, with our plum tree and arugula and bearded irises taking advantage of the sprinklers running on her side of the strip. Our method of irrigation was my dad and a hose. We had sprinklers that worked once. Turning them on was always mind-bogglingly difficult. The way you thought you should turn them was never right, only it was, if you turned it far enough, but not too much.
We never had cut flowers—I don’t think it ever occurred to us to buy them, they were such an extravagance. But my parents would bring in a few, perfectly fragrant, non-color coordinated roses (yellow, red, lavender, hot pink) from the backyard and put them in a cut glass goblet on the kitchen table.
The kitchen counter and windowsill always had numerous plant experiments in different dishes, either seeding or rooting. The countertop would be where the fruit and vegetables would be displayed when they were picked. Five tiny strawberries that tasted like jam, or one glorious summer, a sprawling grid of donut peaches, or eggplants and tomatoes, and bell peppers that shouldn’t have been spicy, but they WERE REALLY SPICY, so I only had one that time and never again.
This summer has not been a good one. There’s a nest in the tree out front that my parents have been protecting from (a different) neighbor’s cat. And then the birds started eating the grapes in the backyard (somehow getting through the netting), so my parents speculate about slingshots. My mom had painstakingly sewn a little pouch out of old but clean t-shirts or socks for each of the budding donut peaches, but every single one was torn off by the #$*@-ing squirrels. But there’s still the persimmon tree with its hard, green persimmons-to-be, the Asian pear tree with the small fruits already brown and speckled, the blueberry bush, the blackberry bush, and the jujube tree that went so crazy with jujubes this year that its branches are dragging on the ground and it looks like very, very tired. There’s also the grapefruit tree that is now taller than me, that I grew from a seed in New York City. I was eating a grapefruit, and one seed had already sprouted, so I planted it in a small pot and kept it in our East Village walk-up studio for a year before bringing it home to sunny California. I have no idea where I got the pot from, much less a small amount of soil. That is still one of the remaining mysteries to me.