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How Not to Dig a Garden Pond
(AKA. The Search for the Perfect Strawberry Daiquiri)

Michael Hillman

The arrival of the first robin, by tradition, is recognized by most as the first sign of spring. Around our farm however, it's the congregating of neighbors around the strawberry patch, daiquiri glasses in hand, that signals the formal arrival of spring. Although the strawberry patch has become the focal point of June-long Bacchus celebrations of friends near and far, it is only the most recent addition to a long line of gardening wonders that Audrey has created since we moved here.

While researching the history of the farm, I was struck by the ebb and flow of the many gardens that have graced this farm over the past one hundred years. Longtime residents talked in reverent tones about the vast and lush gardens of Anna Schealy, who owned the farm from 1918 to 1940. Unfortunately, following the Anna's death, the gardens fell into disrepair. Following the sale of the farm, the house's status changed from one of a primary residence to that of a tenant house. By the time the Sixes took up residence in the 50's, proof of Anna Schealy's gardening wonders had all but evaporated.

In 1950, the Sixes family began their long residence in the house. In spite of the fact that Mrs. Sixes suffered from cancer during most of her tenure on the farm, she turned what energy she did have to cultivating numerous flower gardens. In the many pictures provided by her daughter, Betty Glass, tulips - Mrs. Sixes favorite flower - are prominent. This spring, as the tulips once again provided the first burst of color in the gardens, one couldn't help but smile at the thought of Mrs. Sixes nodding from above in approval of Audrey's efforts.

By the time Audrey put her gardening tools to work around the farm, all evidence of previous gardens had once again disappeared. Audrey spent most of the first winter on the farm designing a vast array of gardens. At first I paid little attention to Audrey's gardening plans, and with good reason, for up until this time, all I had seen of her gardening skill was enclosed within a 6-by-6 foot garden at the veterinary hospital she managed. But, like a little kid with a box of crayons facing a newly painted white wall, Audrey drew garden designs that impressed even our mothers, gardeners extraordinaire in their own right.

Of English lineage, Audrey took to gardening as a fish takes to water. By the end of our first spring, the house once again sported gardens around its entire circumference. Unfortunately, a lot of her initial plantings failed to survive. Quickly recognizing that gardening in clayey soil, hot summers, and a windy environment would require expert advice, Audrey turned to Barb and Marlene at Alloway Gardens in Littlestown for help. Barb and Marlene had "been there" and "done that" and as a result had a solution for every situation Audrey faced. For quite some time, Audrey's Alloway allowance rivaled mine at the local hardware store.

During our second year on the farm, Audrey immersed herself in enlarging and upgrading the gardens around the house and the old barn, all the time, however eyeing our large backyard. Claiming frustration over the hours wasted every week in mowing this large plot of grass, Audrey decided it would make a perfect wildflower meadow and set about collecting wildflower seeds from every part of the country. The following spring, after diligently tilling the soil, she spread the seeds and sat back to wait for the rains to do their magic. Unfortunately, the rains never came that year and by midsummer the much anticipated wildflower garden had become a dust bowl.

The following spring, heavy rains brought abundant growth to the wildflower meadow, but not of the nature Audrey anticipated. Weeds of every shape and size quickly took over the meadow, choking out any wildflower that had managed to germinate. Frustrated but far from beaten, Audrey returned to her drawing board and countless gardening books. Slowly but surely, with help from Barb and Marlene, Audrey drew up the plans for her dream: a formal English garden.

Encompassing most of the backyard, the garden would consist of ten raised beds, varying in length from sixteen to sixty-five feet and in widths from four to sixteen feet. The garden also included a pond for goldfish and toads and was to be enclosed by a white picket fence. Having long since learned how to deal with my propensity to procrastinate, Audrey presented her plans to me shortly after agreeing to allow me to purchase a new horse. Needless to say, I was in no position to object or quibble about the garden's size or cost.

After transplanting a maple seedling - the only item worth saving from the "weed meadow" - to the front of the barn, construction began in earnest. The soil was roto-tilled until it was as fine as sand. Next, a dump truck load of quality top soil, procured from Emmitsburg's own McNair's stone and soil supply, and countless bags of lime, were roto-tilled in to improve the nutrient quality of the clay soil. With blueprints in hand, the location of each bed was laid out and marked by stakes and strings. The walkways between the beds were excavated eight inches below grade and the dirt mounded in the beds, thereby 'raising' the beds above grade.

Once the wood to support the beds was delivered, the actual construction went quickly. Being well ahead of schedule, I took a weekend off to show my new horse. While unloading him from the trailer, I startled him by smacking him on the butt to hurry up, he replied in kind by kicking me in the leg. Needless to say, the full leg cast I found myself in an hour later conveniently ending my participation in the garden project for the remainder of the year.

The following spring, before Audrey allowed me to resume riding, the construction left dormant all winter was completed. As a final touch, as if placing icing on a cake, Audrey found some beautiful multicolor stones, which were spread for the walkways between the many beds. With the beds now completed, Audrey set about planting countless varieties of plants, flowers, and herbs. In accordance with her master plan, each bed in the garden was planted to bloom at a different time.

This plan succeeded so now, from early spring to late fall, there is always one section of the garden in bloom to attract her beloved birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. As a result of her meticulous designs, guests are always treated to brilliant colors, fragrant aromas, and in the evening, countless hummingbirds and butterflies back-dropped by spectacular sunsets. The formal garden has become a favorite gathering place for our friends. Which, in a roundabout way, gets me back to the strawberry patch.

In addition to plants bearing Latin names that I can neither spell nor pronounce, Audrey planted carrots for the horse, catnip for our five cats, potatoes for me (I was bad that year), and strawberries for herself. The first strawberry crop was small, and she harbored her daily harvest with greed. Every morning while she dined on strawberries and cream, I was expected to choke down lukewarm Pop-Tarts.

Unwilling to undergo another season of listening to my whining, that fall, Audrey agreed to triple the size of the strawberry patch. The favorable rains the following spring brought about what can only be called a bumper crop, and for several weeks we ate strawberries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While it was fun at first, with no end to the harvest in sight, we both agreed an alternative way of disposing of strawberries had to be found. Audrey suggested giving them away to friends and neighbors. I on the other hand, suggested using them in strawberry daiquiris.

My completely logical argument that making and sharing daiquiris would fulfill the spirit of Audrey's suggestion - only with the strawberries in a different form - fell on deaf ears, and she proceeded to waste them by giving them away unaltered. As fate would have it however, everyone else was having bumper crops of strawberries. So I got the go ahead to execute Plan B: the creation of the perfect strawberry Daiquiri.

It just so happens that the quest began on what would turn out to be the hottest days of that summer. It also happened to coincide with my plans to dig the goldfish pond in the garden. Knowing it was going to be hot that day, I began digging around seven in the morning. By 10:30, with the temperature pushing 90 degrees, I had dug out less then a quarter of what was planned. With motivation waning, I decided to begin my daiquiri experiments.

As near as I can remember, the first few pitchers didn't really make the grade, but they did make the digging go easier. By the time I finished the third pitcher, I found myself filling the hole back in. Half way through the fifth pitcher, when I found myself digging in the front yard instead of the garden, I knew I had the perfect recipe. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to write, which was immaterial, since by that time I couldn't remember what I was putting into them anyway.

The following morning, Audrey woke me just before sunrise from a rather sound sleep and insisted that I fill in the holes in the front yard, pointedly reminding me that the pond was supposed to be behind the house, not in front of it. Progress went quickly, in spite of the pounding in my head and by early afternoon the excavation of the pond was completed. The shovel had no sooner been put away then friends began to gather and inquire about the nature of the holes in the front yard and on the state of my sanity for digging on such a hot day. Audrey, unable to resist, told the story of my secret daiquiri experiments, and I was immediately swamped with offers to serve as guinea pigs for future taste testing.

With pleas to resume the experiments growing louder by the minute, I finally ignored the throbbing in my head and set about making more daiquiris. Unlike the day before, however, the formula for each new pitcher was duly noted and recorded. Like the day before, by the time we got around to the fifth pitcher, no one really cared anymore. After solving most of the worlds problems, including the national debt, global warming, time travel, and peeling fence paint, the exact contents of our glasses didn't seem to matter much.

Fortunately, I did somehow manage to record the formula for the seventh pitcher, during which we collectively put to rest the question of the nature of extraterrestrial life and its impact on next year’s TV show line up. Since after this pitcher no one present remembers anything else, it, by default, was the winning recipe:

8 ounces of dark rum (Myer's or better)
1 ˝ quarts fresh strawberries
6 ounces of Lime juice
2 to 3 more ounces of rum
3 to 5 cups of crushed ice4 heaping tablespoons of sugar
2 to 3 more Ounces of rum,
Add rum to taste

The rum is placed in the blender first, followed by the strawberries, which should be halved. Blend together for one minute. Next, add the sugar and lime juice and blend together for another minute. The contents should be sampled at this time, and any additional rum or sugar added to suit one's taste. One should always remember however, to always error on the side of extra rum. Once satisfied, add the crushed ice, another shot of rum, another tablespoon of sugar, and another handful of strawberries. Blend to a smooth texture.

With Daiquiri in hand, sit back and have a long, good conversation with a friend.

Enjoy!

Michael lives with his wife Audrey on their farm southeast of Emmitsburg, where he will be enjoying this year’s strawberry harvest with friends and neighbors while watching Audrey cut the grass.

Read other Humor stories by Michael Hillman

Read other stories by Michael Hillman