Springtime with Myra

Oh, man. Today it got above 50 degrees, and if I thought Christmas without Myra was hard, it’s got nothing on springtime. Mom was an avid gardener, a passionate iris grower, and until I was 12 I didn’t even know people could buy potatoes at the store. I thought everyone either grew their own or got giant sacks full of them from my mom’s garden. Honest.

So today I was walking around my yard, thinking of how much I missed my mama, and I remembered that the first time I ever wanted to plant anything was just as I graduated from the U of M Morris. I was 22, so I called up Myra and asked her advice, and I wrote it down. After she died, I found a book I had made for her (thank you Jenny Nellis’ bookbinding class) with all of her gardening directions in it.

Tonight, I sat down and typed them up for you. Go on ahead and plant something, gentle readers. She would want you to.

Gardening Tips from Myra Johnson

Spring 1995

So you want to plant a garden down in Morris? Well, it’s not the Red River Valley, you know. They have sandy soil down there. Though that might be better for potatoes….what do you want to know?

You can plant whatever you want. I don’t care. Sure, flowers, vegetables, whatever. Where exactly are you going to plant all this? I thought you didn’t have a garden. Around the house? Well that should be interesting. No, you don’t have to weed, I guess. Of course everything will die before it gets past the seedling stage. So what do you want to know then?


No, you don’t have to garden barehanded if it hurts. Gardening really dries out your nails and skin: buy gardener’s gloves if you want. I think your aunt Linda gardens in gloves. You don’t want rough hands like your mother, anyway. Of course, it’s not like you ever let your nails grow long enough to be nice. It’s up to you. Use gloves to protect your hands or don’t and let the dirt make them stronger. Whichever.


What’re you, crazy? No one plants tomatoes by seed around here. It’s too cold for that nonsense. No, go to Noel’s SuperValu—what’s that called in Morris? Willie’s? Go to Willies and buy a tomato plant. They’re only like $2. Can you afford that? Oh, they are so good, Jenny. You can pick them green if you want, and let them ripen on the windowsill in the kitchen.


I don’t know. What do you like? Aren’t you allergic to every flower on earth? Well, buy some seeds that look pretty and plant them. No carnations, though—they’re so hard to get to bloom. You’ll have moved away before you see a single flower. Try morning glories. Do you have anything for them to climb on? That fence will work. They’re pretty. Don’t plant marigolds. They stink. Unless you really like yellow. Don’t you have any lilacs down there?


You don’t usually go out and plant rhubarb. It just sort of shows up in your yard or in the yard of someone you know who doesn’t want it. I notice you have some back by the alley. Here’s how to harvest it. Go out (wearing your gloves, if you want) and bring one of those 49 cent steak knives I gave you. Cut the stalks about 1 inch from the ground. Then chop off the leafy part and throw it away. Don’t let those neighbor boys eat it.


Why on earth would you plant basil? Just go to Willie’s and buy a jar of it. Your garden’s too small to waste it on a plant that looks so much like a weed, Jennifer.

Working the soil:

I was hoping you’d ask. Well, your father and I bought you a spade at Tootie’s garage sale the other day for fifty cents, so go take the one you bought back to Pamida. You’re gonna take the spade and break the dirt up. Go about six inches down and break it up really well, because seedlings aren’t strong enough to do that themselves. And remember worms are your friends. Working the soil is usually the hardest part of gardening. Except maybe the weeding…


Pull up whatever you didn’t plant (unless it’s tulips or lilies or a tree or something). If you don’t know if it’s yours or not, pull it up anyway. I killed lots of little carrot/squash/corn wanna-bes in my time. Don’t worry. You won’t hardly miss it. Unless you pull them all up, so don’t do that.


I can’t believe you’re asking me how to plant potatoes. You’ve been planting them since the day you were born. If you really want to know, you can’t possibly be my daughter. When you do plant them, remember to leave pockets for the potatoes or they’ll grow weird. But you knew that. Right?


Why do you want to plant turnips? You don’t even eat normal vegetables like peas. You don’t just plant something because it’s fashionable or because the other kids are doing it, you know. Fine. If you want to plant them you’ll have to read the back of the envelope because I tried once and none of them came up. So what do I know?


Onions are fun. They grow well in sandy soil (like potatoes) so you should do fine. Just pull them when you can see a bit of the white of the onion. Earlier and you’ll be disappointed in size and flavor. Wait, do you even eat onions?


For Chrissakes, Jenny, don’t plant corn. We get corn free from that friend of your dad’s across the river. Don’t waste your time or garden space.


Just make sure you leave room for the vines and don’t mow over them and keep the neighbor boys away because they might think they’re pumpkins. They’ll bloom sometime in July, and you should probably pick off half the flowers or better if you want any respectable sized squash out of the deal.


Just like squash but orange.


You hate zucchini. Don’t bother. Besides, all you ever did with the zucchini I used to plant was to carve out the inside and make boats for your dolls, or hit your sister with them. Not good, Jennifer. Do zucchinis give you bad dreams?


You can’t grow watermelons here. Our growing season is far too short. If you insist, plant them somewhere sunny and when they bloom, treat them like squash and get rid of most of the flowers. Otherwise the plant won’t have enough nourishment for any fruit, especially in the sandy crap you call soil down there.


Water the garden when it looks dusty. Some summers you never have to water at all. Some summers I’ve watered 2 or 3 times a week. And keep in mind that if things get too wet there’s nothing to do but pray for sun, but there’s always a garden hose nearby. And don’t water too close to the house or it might seep into your basement and make a mess of things.


Home grown cabbage, boiled with salt and pepper and cream? Tastes just like candy. Better than candy. So yes, I think you should grow cabbage. But I hope you don’t have any rabbits, and if you do I hope you can persuade them to stay away. Oh, and some bugs are really hard on cabbage too.


Let’s see, what else can I tell you? It’s a helluva lotta work, but it’s usually worth it. I’ll give you some recipes so you don’t just sit around looking at your garden until everything rots on the vine. I can’t believe you’re planting a garden voluntarily! Write it down! It’s a miracle! I used to have to beg and plead to get you out to the farm. Ah well. I guess you’re growing up, too. Maybe you’ll even learn to eat peas eventually.


About Jennifer

Writer teacher mama sister friend sewist poet trying to stay warm in Minnesota's northwest.
This entry was posted in Family, Grief, Hendrum, Love, Nostalgia. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Springtime with Myra

  1. Marlys says:

    Thank you, Jennifer. It was so great to hear from Myra:)

  2. Nicole says:

    Oh, Jenny. For Chrissakes, this made me laugh and weep. I think I would have loved your Myra so.
    Until I went off to Kindergarten, I thought you counted one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-Jack-Queen-King. My dad taught me to play cards. I miss him so much.
    Love to you and *please* keep writing.

  3. Angie says:

    Oh, I loved this!!

  4. I smiled the whole time I was reading this…

  5. Pingback: Travels with Myra, part 1 | Languishing

  6. Please send this everywhere to be published. Everyone needs this advice from Myra’s mouth through yours. Love.

  7. Pingback: Recipes | Languishing

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