Today, February 21, is the last frost date for New Orleans. This is beyond counterintuitive for a native Pennsylvanian like me, for whom the Philadelphia Flower Show (this year March 3-11) has served as a harbinger of a far-distant spring, last frost date April 17.
My first few growing seasons here were terribly disorienting, marked primarily by my repeatedly failing intuition. My sense of timing was several months off. I encountered completely new pestilence and disease. My landlord weed-whacked an entire flowerbed of lovingly nurtured seedlings, confirming my worst fears that, like the Pennsylvania flowers I love, I am simply too fragile and misplaced for life in this horrible climate. Oh, and the back yard floods. Often.
I harbor a deep resentment that, starting basically tomorrow, I will have to water daily or plants will die. This is only a slight exaggeration. I am trying to embrace it as an exercise in being present in the moment. However, in my Philly garden, beyond watering new seeds or transplants, there were only a few weeks in August when I would drag the hose out every couple of days. I haven’t completely lost the memory of this innocent time.
Never heard of “mud,” which is New Orleanian for “soil,” which is likely to be too sandy for gardening. I’m still figuring out “pine straw” and how to use it as mulch. Philadelphia set the bar high by offering excellent free compost soil and wood chips to residents. New Orleans 311 met my inquiry about anything similar here with a puzzled silence. I finally tossed out the last of my saved Pennsylvania seeds and bought a packet of Creole tomato seeds from Perino’s. Thankfully at some point, I discovered local garden guru Dan Gill, and now slavishly follow his “What to Plant When” guide and stream his radio program religiously while cleaning.
Humble though my small garden is, I derive a lot of satisfaction from the photo above, taken yesterday. I have a decent crop going this season, with more sprouts just poking their noses out of the soil: kale, Swiss chard, arugula, beets, peas, lettuce, dill, cilantro and collards. This despite our recent freezing temperatures.
Educating myself about how to garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9B is one way I can root myself here, so I am determined. Leaving the place where generations of my family, on both sides, had farmed the land was hard. Extra kale helps me feel like maybe, just maybe, it will be all right.