If you're old enough, you might remember how President Gerald Ford proposed to fix an ailing economy. He urged us all to plant WIN gardens.
The letters stood for Whip Inflation Now, and his vision was of tiny garden plots appearing all over America in the spring of '75 — in converted flower beds, window boxes, dirt-filled washtubs on tenement roofs. And then as we consumed our micro-harvests come the summertime — a stalk of tomatoes, perhaps, a solitary cabbage, a squash — food prices would dwindle at the supermarket and this would somehow make rambunctious inflation ashamed of itself and inspire it to settle down.
It might be a reflection of how times have changed, and how the political parties haven't, that a troubled economy that now requires trillion-dollar stimuli was thought then to need only the prompting of a few Burpee seeds and a packet of Miracle-Gro, with a couple of applications of bully pulpit manure, to perk it right up.
I was thinking about this last week at the sodbusting of my 2009 spring garden. I thought I'd like my garden to make a statement of some kind here in these troubled times — a patriotic statement, a consumer-confidence statement, a turnrow populist statement of retort to Rush Limbaugh for saying on the radio that he hoped my garden failed. (He wants my garden to fail because he considers it socialistic? How can a garden be socialistic? What's wrong with that guy?)
So I wanted an eloquent garden, in a manner of speaking, one certainly capable of defending itself against blowhard dope fiends, but I'm not much of a hand at statement-making, agricultural or otherwise, and am reduced here to a terse Thoreau-like or Jefferson-like accounting of my intended inventory of '09 truck, with a brief apologia for each entry. If you can find a larger message in the overall garden schema, I hope you'll let me know.
Collard greens. In recognition of their alone having spared some of my sharecropper ancestors — the ones who were allowed to plant a few heads of it — the agonies of pellagra.
Bell peppers. I prefer the ones that through genetic engineering have been declappered.
English peas. One of my grandmothers — the one I didn't like — used to serve English peas two meals a day. She always praised them for their versatility and edibility, whatever that meant, even though nobody ever ate a one that she served. For all of her touting of them, she wouldn't even eat the whoremongers herself. My grandfather would snort contemptuously when she went into her obviously insincere spiel about them, and I suppose that was an admirable feat, being able to summon up the indignation to snort contemptuously twice a day every day about English peas after having done it twice a day every day for 60 years. We didn't eat often at their house, and the inevitability of the business with the English peas was just one of the reasons why we didn't.
Carrots. I got acquainted with massive carrot-infusion therapy at the urging of a friend of mine, who was on a carrot-eating regimen that required him to eat, like, 50 of them a day. Or maybe it was 50 bunches of them a day. Carrot coffee to wash them down, and carrot cake for dessert. Nancy Snyderman or somebody had told him carrots were the best source of beta carotene, and as such might help him avoid lung cancer, of which C. Everett Koop had finally scared him silly. He got lung cancer anyway, though, and died from it. I didn't — and don't — blame his death on the carrots. They failed him in my opinion only because he smoked a cigarette before and after each carrot — five packs a day, and then an extra pack or two in between trying to get the carrot taste out of his mouth.
Pole beans. Only because they have stood by us steadfastly in Afghanistan — them and the Canadians.
Dogbane. I know it's probably just folk legend that it'll keep the werewolves away, but what could it hurt to put in just one short row, planted under the full moon. And enough garlic for a necklace to deter those other pesky bloodthirsty children of the night.
Kumquats. As a gesture of appreciation for W.C. Fields.
Okra. I plant a few hills of okry every year for the same reason that monks in medieval times flogged themselves. I would no more eat a pod of it than I would a dung beetle, but you want at least a small mess to pickle and keep visible, on a shelf or in the fridge, as a home-grown reminder of several of life's important lessons. These lessons elude me, but I understand they have to do with driving out demons, or with being able to serenely look upon evil in one of its grossest manifestations, or with cultivating a proper disgust for the ugly and the inedible. Or some damned thing. The Stoics understood it, which explains their choice of the okra pod as their fraternal emblem. Those flagellant brothers understood it, too, and their masochistic rituals involving the actual consumption of boiled variety of the abomination are too gruesome to chronicle here.
Cucumbers. The best way I know to ensure that Tums will have a continuing raison d'etre.