The oddness of it first struck me when the mason asked if he could pluck a few green things out of the wreckage he wrought demolishing the old chicken coop. “Winter Lettuce,” he chirped holding up a shiny specimen. He gestured to the mess that was the chicken yard/orchard/vegetable patch as if to hint there were gems strewn about, and then carried off three muddy plantlings held close to his chest.
Back to work. We tore up and ploughed over the entire area. Tossed some grass seed to keep the mud at bay. Turned our backs, got busy with everything else.
Months passed. We called in the tractor, time to mow this wild green zone into submission. But the mammoth tires came to a screeching halt and the farmer wagged his head like an emissary from GreenPeace. “Can’t cut. Look.”
A spring time miracle of neglect. Scattered in the tall grass and weeds, vegetables had popped up everywhere. Courgettes, eggplant, peppers, pumpkins, even tomato plants. And of course, the wild winter lettuce. The farmer ruminated about their preciousness and how the darkest, most rustic (and sometimes slightly bitter) greens are often the most chockfull of nutrients.
He also reminded us to eat the abundant dandelion greens – piss en lit – (means pipi-in-your-bed since they are a diuretic) before the flower appeares. “This whole field is a dinner plate. You can make vinegar from your old wine, crush some of your walnuts for oil and voila, you have everything! He tenderly plucked a few plants and vroomed away.
Leaving us with the problem of a lawn that can’t be mowed. And two seasons of treading gingerly amidst the weeds, grass and vegetables feeling we should set the table right there in the field.
When summer ended (sadness and relief to mow the lawn) we filled our stone snail shell with clean, good soil and compost for our herbs. We set them in the top, leaving the rest of the space for more herb planting in the spring. But almost overnight the winter lettuces colonized the slope. A procession of lettuces!
And now it’s winter again. That time of cellar-housed root vegetables and a belly longing for minerals.
I pull on my wellies before dinner and plod through the muddy allée toward the magic lawn. A hope for sustenance in the twilight. Stepping lightly, I spy one, two… and then, like the loaves and fishes, there they are, a multitude of lettuce jewels flourishing among the weeds and grass. Poking up everywhere, even out from the broken tiles along the path.
Some cultures pay homage to elemental spirits. I am now planning a small shrine at the edge of this garden. Maybe to the spirit of Perpetual Plenty…