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Garden party



The renegade watermelon vine (or is that a cantaloupe?) grows south three inches a day, progressively exiting its bed among the tomato cages. The tomato enclave looks like an industrial power grid, a safety net of monster production machines; still, the vine marches ahead.

After all, it's a volunteer, a freethinker even, making its daily mad dash for the sun. I didn't plant it. It just decided to embrace life, to survive the weeds, to dodge the weeders. And it's done exactly that. It takes a special plant to make it beyond the deer fence security and layers of leaf mulch. Most volunteers will end up as gourds, hybrids of hybrids. But if the bees are around a lot and an heirloom strain is strong, we might get huge pumpkins or uniquely tasty zucchinis. Then again, they've got champions: Every year, it's the volunteers I root for the most. I know we'll have a bounty of zukes, peppers and tomatoes. Watching the surprise peanut plants dig in around the majestic sunflowers or the perpetually returning new potatoes take over a well-planned cucumber mound makes me smile. We're the masters of the garden, but we didn't invite them. Still, here they are, vegetable guests at a garden party, helping themselves to compost, mulch and as much water as they can swallow.

I'm as proud of the brave little blueberry shoots that suddenly poked their way through dense pine straw three feet away from their parents as I am of their stalwart extended family, which dominates the orchard. Tender, light green blueberry runners are a special treat for roving deer. The sunflowers don't have it so easy. They're under siege from leggy tomato volunteers. We plant the sentry-like sunflowers on the garden's north edge, and they grow the tallest, with those thick stalks that support those big heads. They can surely handle a few spindly visiting tomatoes.

Most gardens are thriving these days. We had buckets of rain a few weeks ago and a very early last frost. The waves of sweet potato vines are already choking the cherry tomatoes. Do I separate them or let them work it out? It's the gardener's dilemma—once the planting is done, do you let nature decide who really gets to run with it? Meanwhile, our ever-bounding puppy has taken things into his own hands. He's learned to jump in the air and snag the green apples that tempt from the lower branches. I call it pruning.

Each year, I root for the few surviving asparagus plants and two kinds of mint that we transplanted from the sunshine summers of our youth down the road. Iced tea with oh-so-local lemon mint and asparagus on the grill? Timeless treats all.

But the plant I'm most excited about this year is a tiny white oak seedling. My niece gave it to me last month. She grew it from an acorn found in the Winston-Salem cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried. A white oak tree may live for hundreds of years, growing 80 feet tall and just as wide. Good luck, I say.

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