November 07, 2007 Edition

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Returning to country
roots ~ just a little

Beth Bland

After living in New York City for 22 years, I have recently returned to my country roots ~ just a little.

My family and I moved last month from our 10th-floor apartment to a townhouse. We're still in Brooklyn, we still walk out the front door and run errands on foot, still head to the subway for longer trips and save our car for special occasions, but when we walk out our back door, we think we're in the country.

Well, no one from Lawrence County would think so ~ we can't see our neighbors over the tall fence, but we have talked to them, and we can look up and see the five-story apartment building where they live, on one side, and the two-story carriage house on the other.

So our lower forty consists of a bluestone patio with a grill, a sweet little patch of grass, an immature grape arbor (about 3x10) that may have grapes next summer, one tomato plant, one crabapple tree, a crepe myrtle that may be dead and some rose buses and other plants ~ all secluded, by city standards, by fences and a hedge.

That is what we inherited from the previous owner. The only reason I know what some of these things are is because they were nice enough to leave us their seed packets and tree tags. Unlike my mother and brother, I didn't get a gardening gene. It's not just that I have lived in the city for so long. I have seen some pretty startled looks on peoples' faces at some of my questions, so I have turned to the Internet for some of the basics. Right now, for instance, I am trying to find out what we need to do now to get ready for spring ~ someone said there were things we should do, but I don't know what they are. (My husband, Paul, was riding his bike and saw another grape arbor that had been cut back for the winter. So we are wondering whether we should cut ours back, too.)

But lack of knowledge is not going to hold me back. I want to embrace my garden and make it my own. My first project was to set up a compost box in the corner. My family thought that was a hoot, in the beginning. But now they help fill it up with leaves, coffee grounds, banana peels and vegetable trimmings. This morning I saw Paul tiptoeing through the dewy grass to check its progress.

He was tiptoeing because we have lived here for six weeks without cutting the grass. But yesterday I ordered an old-fashioned reel lawn mower. No gas or electricity for us! As we like to say, Al Gore would be proud. Paul thought we could get through the winter without mowing, but our son Cullen and I planted some winter rye last week, and it is starting to come up.

And thanks to the Internet, I knew that we could "overplant" the rye without having to pull up whatever was already there.

(Note: Beth Bland lives in Brooklyn, New York, with husband, Paul Girolamo, and sons, James, 15, and Cullen, 12. She is the daughter of Virginia Bland of Walnut Ridge and the late Jim Bland Jr.)

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