garden 2019

I have trouble nailing down my true earliest memory. I know there are people who can easily recite them, but I’m not sure I know exactly which memories came first.

I remember standing on my tip toes next to a table that was moved out onto Mamaw and Papaw’s driveway with my mouth open wide so my “Uncle Bear” could drop a steamed oyster on my tongue – my first taste of a lifelong love of oyster roasts.

I remember when I realized I’d learned to read well enough to finish an entire book and how proud my parents made me feel. I wasn’t in school yet, but I was word-obsessed and I was very aware, probably because of the way my parents encouraged me, that books could open new worlds for me.

I don’t know which of those things came first and I don’t know if those moments are older than my first memories of helping my mom in her garden.

We had a backyard that was notorious for flooding. It rose to street level on one side of the house and dropped several feet as you crossed the grass. When it rained really hard, it’d fill up like a pool.

The first garden I remember was tucked in a corner formed by the beams that held the deck and the staircase that led to it. I can’t remember now if it was a raised bed, but I know it had some sort of fence boundary, probably to keep Molly, our bouncy sheepdog-springer spaniel mix out.

My mom would let me help before I had any idea what helping looked like. She’d let me follow her around the garden pointing at plants and asking what they were.

I was, unsurprising to anyone who knows me now, a curious kid.

She’d teach me about why we planted tomatoes when we did and when to know that something was ready to pick.

She introduced me to my longtime favorite flower – the snapdragon – it’s not particularly beautiful in shape or even color, but I was drawn to the name.

Snapdragons are a cool season plant. Each long stalk has several buds that open creating a kind of bouquet on a single stalk. They come in a variety of colors, but I’ve always been partial to the pinks.

I carried snapdragons in my wedding bouquet, because I love them, but more-so as a nod to my mom and our moments in her garden – the garden I consider my first.

I don’t say these things aloud to her as much as I should, but so much of what I do is a nod to who she is and our relationship.

My love of gardening wasn’t my own at first, it was a love of spending time learning from her.

Now it’s my own and one of my favorite passions.

This year will be my second year planting a garden in my own yard. We bought a house in the late summer of 2017 and planted our first vegetable garden in early 2018. It went very well – we ate a lot of food grown in our own yard and it was incredibly refreshing. We also watched  roughly a dozen watermelons grow to a decent, but not-yet-pickable size and then rot before they crossed the goal line. It happens. Gardening isn’t perfect. Nature isn’t fully predictable, but every experience is a teacher, right?

This year, we tripled the size and I plan to add flowers to the mix.

I’ve decided to document the process this year and I’ll share what works and what doesn’t right here. So stick around if you love pretty decent photos of plants and helpful tips so you can avoid whatever mistakes I’ll inevitably make.

Pickens County

It’s hard when I’m on a trail not to look around and think of who’s been there before. I look up the hill beside me and imagine how the natives might’ve run criss-cross paths through the trees. This was their land long before anyone carved out trails and nailed markers to tree trunks.

I imagine how swiftly they’d move from one spot to another, occasionally someone might have turned an ankle on uneven ground. Or maybe that didn’t happen like it would today. Maybe their joints were stronger, more nimble because they weren’t used to the cushion and control of a pair of nikes.

I’m suddenly embarrassed by my reliance on and loyalty to the swoosh.

The Keowee-Toxaway State Park was not where we intended to end up on that Sunday afternoon. We were headed a little further northwest. Driving through Pickens County always feels like an exploration of home. Of course, I feel that way about basically everywhere in the Carolinas. I’m a sucker for the long leaf pine and palmetto trees.

I was 14 when we moved to Pickens County, and I only truly lived four years of my life there, but It’s as much my home on this particular Sunday as any part of North Carolina at this point. And it’s in my blood.

Devil’s Fork has been on our radar since the first time we took friends to see it. The easy trails give way to beautiful views of Lake Jocassee and a nice spot to swim and kayak. Devil’s Fork is where we thought we were going, but the sign for Keowee-Toxaway is visible from the intersection of 133 and Highway 11. Sometimes plans change.

The people who would’ve run through these trees are my actual ancestors.

With backpacks, water bottles, hats, and bagged lunches we make our way down the path. We’re not counting on catching our meals or going too long without a sip of fresh water. We’re prepared.

It’s several miles before we’ll come out on the other end. There are hills and dips, lake views and areas where you can’t even tell you’re near a water source – these are the spots that seem most authentic.

The lake we’ll pass wasn’t even there with the natives. Every lake in South Carolina is man made. Our northwestern corner of the state once had only dense forests and mazes of rivers, streams, and creeks.

Long before our family had the Sanders name, or owned a farm near town, my ancestors most likely ran through those trees, chasing down prey.

I had a hard time moving to Pickens County in 2002 because I was a teenager, and because it seemed like it had nothing to offer. There’s not even a mall where a girl can buy a new pair of nikes.

But the people who once ran through these trees are my people. Before the Sanders landed on top of a hill by Rice’s Creek, my family knew the animals, the red dirt, and the way the streams carved through the land like natural maps.