La Bella Fontana

Report from Bellefonte PA, by Helen Fontana Bechdel

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Gardens are ripening all around town

I started thinking about gardens last Sunday while visiting the James and Barbara Palmer exhibition at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State.

There, among all the outstanding works by artists such as George Luks, born in Williamsport, and John Sloan, born in Lock Haven, a watercolor by Charles Demuth, of Lancaster, seemed to leave its frame and imprint itself on my brain.

Simply titled "Eggplants and Tomatoes," the painting was so realistic I could feel the weight of the vegetables in my hand. Their plumpness and rich colors triggered a longing for local produce after a long winter of supermarket imports.

The next day, I saw Major Keller working in his garden, which faces Simpson Street. He had just planted two rows each of onions, radishes and lettuce. He talked to me about the days when he and his wife would can 75 quarts of tomatoes and how 30 minutes after picking them, the vegetables would be in the freezer.

Downtown, Jim's backyard plot is as orderly as a monastery garden, with neat squares marked off and walkways in between. Collards, kale and mustard greens are already in the ground. Last year's parsley, which I picked until snow covered it over, has seeded itself and is cropping up along the wall.

Out in Zion, Sharon's peas, which she planted two and a half weeks ago, are up about an inch. Lettuce in cold frames is up also. The onion sets have just arrived, and soon the sweet potatoes will be in.

Not having a garden myself, I walk through town enjoying the sights of other people's gardens, picking lettuce and other greens when invited -- but sometimes a tomato just seems to fall into my hand.

I was too late in the fall for Melady's broccoli. When I cut into the emerald green stalks, they were frozen solid.

The farmers' market in front of the historical museum is officially open year-round, but during the winter, only a couple of hardy vendors show up. Polly Fleming, of Spring Mills, says she will have asparagus in a couple of weeks. Lois, from Howard, has a new greenhouse and has set some seeds. I will be waiting.

At Triangle Supplies, two wire racks hold all kinds of vegetable seeds, from arugula to zucchini. Woodring's Greenhouse on Ridge Street has started their tomato and pepper plants.

The ground has warmed up. The rest is up to the gardeners and the weather gods.


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