Not a Secret Garden Salad & Garden Fresh Arugula

Mixed Green Salad with Breaded Goat Cheese

Stretching out my shoulders from their hunched position and pushing back a tangled blonde curtain of hair, I blinked in the dusky early evening light. I’d no idea the bright sun I started reading in had circled down while I sat in the middle of the bed, legs crossed, turning pages. My face showed remnants of the suspense and the completely blissful satisfaction from finishing a favorite book. My lips squinched to the side in contemplation, corners turned up in a grin and the widening of my eyes told of the plan just formed.

That’s how I imagine the scene, thinking back on myself sitting in my childhood bedroom, having just finished reading The Secret Garden for what must have at least been the fifth time, before executing the great plan. I took a pair of my mom’s scissors and went outside. Carefully evaluating the yard I looked around until I found the spot –- between the only large tree and the corner of the house — about three feet in to the yard. Not really hidden at all, but it would do for now. I sat down and started cutting. I thought I was clearing away the grass so that “sharp, pale green points” could have room to grow. I made sure the tree was wick. And then, hopefully, some boy would come from the moor with seed packets. We’d plant them and prune the roses — not as if it was a “gardener’s garden” though. There weren’t any roses, but they’d appear. The stone wall enclosing my garden would have to wait. I didn’t have any stones and didn’t know where they would come from.

A little later my mom, walking out to fetch me into dinner, was not pleased to see what I’d done to the lawn with her best kitchen shears. Very exasperated, she informed me this was not the correct way to clear the grass for a garden nor the correct spot and it was certainly not the correct scissors. My parents did not understand my sudden desire for a garden and I refused to explain the secret. It would’ve ruined the whole thing.

Not that they didn’t try to cultivate my interest in gardening. I was given a little set of tools, a couple apple trees, grass for the cat. The cat quickly devoured the grass, the apple trees died in their pots because with there always being talk of moving I refused to plant them and be forced to leave my apple trees behind. The tools…well, it’s a lot less fun to garden with rules. My short-lived secret plot was lots more fun.

I’ve never quite given up on my idea of a secret garden.

One of the points in favor of my current apartment complex was because I’d heard that the residents got to grow plants in their little courtyards. One day, last year, I walked outside to find a neighbor pulling up all the ivy that had been choking out everything in our little courtyard. In one little corner, she’d started a flower garden.

We found lots of treasures there that day — sparkly rocks, rusty blades, old lighters, small toys, a drain that could stop our courtyard and the first floor apartments from flooding every time it rained. Benny learned he loved to dig in the dirt. He’s good at it. We rolled up the ivy like the carpet it is. I bought plants, got more from my parents, poured out decomposed granite around the few stepping stones. I marveled at how sparkly my hands became. “Jazz hands,” my neighbors and I laughed.

As we were finishing up the days work, it started to rain a quick, refreshing summer shower. I gave the dog a bath. Myself too. My impromptu gardening day ended with an inspired by dinner. A garden salad with basil-spinach pesto, topped with breaded and perfectly baked slices of goat cheese. I paired it with a dry lavender soda. Next year, I dreamed, I’ll be picking the lettuce and herbs from my garden. I’ll be making my own lavender soda with my own garden grown lavender.

Without the ivy all sorts of dormant roots started to sprout. They never had a chance to grow or bloom. A gardener — so called — came by one day and sprayed poison and when that didn’t work he dug them up. I came home one day to find my carefully picked and paid for plants gone. Others were put down instead and the drain was covered up, without seeming reason or sense. Without thought to the winter or thought to the dirt that would be washed away.

It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last that the secret garden I so wanted to create would be snatched away. Never a secret and never mine.

Poached Eggs with Sauteed Arugual and Goat Cheese on Toasted BreadI explore neighborhoods searching for the plants that are overgrown, the surprise flower, looking to live vicariously through those gardens. I go to the farmer’s market — where every vegetable tastes better. I eagerly volunteer to garden at my friend’s house. At Charlie’s house all the plants grow as if by magic. We eat salads with lettuce picked from the yard.

Even though the rain accompanied by a surprise cold front ruined both the dog’s and my plans for digging in the dirt I still left their house with a bag full of garden fresh arugula and a few surprise leaves of lettuce.

At home, thinking of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, I sauteed up the arugula in garlic and spice. I toasted slices from a  farmer’s market fresh loaf of bread and spread on Pure Luck Farm and Dairy goat cheese. I poached an egg. I fried a few leaves of sage waiting in a jar of water because I needed just a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary and the store sold it all as a bunch.

Someday, I will have my secret garden. Someday I will find the place where the things grow wick under my watching. It will not be a gardener’s garden. It will be a wonderful place where the cat and the dog and I enjoy countless hours digging in the dirt, sitting in a tree, climbing over stone walls.

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