Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: It’s Almost Garden Planting Time

What a grand thing this warm, springy weather has been. It gives us just enough oomph to get through any cold and gloomy siege Mom Nature may yet throw at us. The balmy breezes have us thinking of all the wonderful warm weather stuff. The itch to get our hands dirty in the garden has been mighty powerful.
We’ve talked about what different things the Gardener will put in his veggie garden this year, and what he will do differently. This will be the second year for this new garden spot. We are still learning it and hopefully we will also learn to plant less.
For my part, I have a lose plan for a larger flowerbed. I discovered last year that giant zinnias perform gloriously here and I intend to have all I can squeeze in along the porch, and more. I have the gardening bug in the extreme for now and likely will until the mosquitoes bloom.
  When I was a kid on Blevins Street, just about every backyard had a vegetable garden, big or small, including ours.  Each plot was devoted to the vegetable garden basics; tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, potatoes, corn, squash, carrots and beets. Some had berries of different kinds, and some grew more flowers than others. With the many flowing wells on that side of town, these gardens were easily watered and lush.  
Bud Sheets, across the street, gardened in his backyard after his workday at Michigan Gas. Charlie Austin and Burt Sible, both retired, could be seen leaning on hoes, surveying their tidy and nicely growing gardens at any time of the day. Sid VanderWal, carpenter by trade, raised tomatoes in Sue’s imaginary horse pasture. And when Liz’s family moved to Blevins Street and before their garden spot was established, her dad grew tomatoes in the flowerbeds.
    My grandma had a huge garden. Her family grown, she planted with an eye toward making a few dollars. She grew giant sunflowers, cut flowers, gladiolas, red raspberries and asparagus, for sale, and for her own pleasure. From the moment they began to bloom until leaves fell from the trees, there were cut flowers on her table. Of course, like everyone else, she grew a few of the garden basics, tomatoes and cucumbers also favorites.
    In the mid 1950’s Carleton Carlton and Violet Scherlitz bought what was then known as the Welch House on Blevins Street. It sat, and is still, on the small rise between our house and my grandmothers. When the Scherlitz’ bought the place it had not been occupied by any Welch’s, or anyone else, in quite a long while. It was, in fact, a time capsule from a Marion gone by, even by 1950’s standards. The property had, as many did at one time, a small horse barn in the back, toward the edge of the swamp. Grapes and a large elderberry bush grew on the north side of the barn. There was an outhouse half way between the barn and house, a pitcher pump and a faithfully steady flowing well. Several apple trees grew here too.
    Carl Scherlitz made it one of his priorities to establish a large garden spot in the former barnyard, which was still possessed of better than average soil. He rigged an irrigation system supplied by the flowing well and grew a fine garden each season thereafter. Much of what Violet ‘put up’ for the winter came from Carl’s well tended garden and the fruit trees and bushes in their back yard. You didn’t find a better stocked or tastier larder.
    It is no surprise that on Blevins Street, Violet Scherlitz was also a canning master. She pickled, preserved, stewed and jammed everything that came from her garden. She preserved immense quantities of produce for use throughout the year. Besides copious quantities of beans and tomatoes, in their various preserved forms, Violet made a plentiful selection of pickles, relishes, jellies and jams and canned fruits for her family, as well as to give away. A jar of Violet Scherlitz sweet chunk pickles or strawberry jam was highly prized on many a table.
As one thought leads to another, I realize that this early garden enthusiasm could lead to a version of that old childhood ailment, “eyes too big for our bellies” when it comes time to preserve it all. The gentlemen that grew those big Blevins Street gardens may have been retired, but they each had a hard working, preserving wife in their kitchen.  

This photo is our 1958 Blevins Street garden. It kept both of my parents busy all summer. They scaled it back in the years to come. 

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