Childhood, Gardening, Stories

Scylla’s Potatoes

This writing is part of a larger work in progress called, "Every Garden I Have Known." Originally written May 2021.

There were not many gardens in my childhood, and the few that come to mind are not exactly traditional. This fact threw me off for many of my early years as a garden writer. That I did not have a quaint story with a family farm, a vegetable patch in the yard, or an elder who passed on gardening know-how made me think I was a pariah trying to enter a party to which I was not invited. Class and race within the horticultural landscape were barriers that I could see and feel, but I didn’t have the words to address.

The maternal family I knew had been displaced for generations. There was no home nor land. There wasn’t even a yard. Instead, there was a white plastic, recycled food bucket of potatoes on the tiny concrete balcony of my grandmother’s senior citizen’s hi-rise apartment. Plants that she did not buy from a catalogue (she never would have seen a garden catalogue), but grew from produce that had sprouted and couldn’t be thrown to waste.

Decades ago, before I had the words to talk about class, race, and gardening, I made a flash animation in recognition of Scylla’s potatoes. They were my original inspiration with making due with the space you have as a gardener and growing a little something that nourishes. They are why, when I was 18, I started tucking the seeds leftover from store-bought produce into pots of soil without contemplating why I was doing it. They are the impetus behind what eventually became a rooftop covered in pots of every sort of plant under the sun well before I’d ever seen another like it. They are why I became a garden writer.

My relationship with Scylla was incredibly complex and difficult. I may never find the words to write that story. But I am forever grateful for the gift she gave me by example: A garden can be grown anywhere.

The urge to connect with our plant relations is not something restricted to those with means. It is a universal part of the human experience. Beyond desire, fashion, or pride of place, for many of us, nurturing plants is an absolute requirement. It is our healing and survival.

[Photo of my maternal grandmother in 1967 around the time she emigrated from Barbados to Canada. She would have been 55. ]