My neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, so that awkward strip of land between property line and county-maintained street is a landscape free-for-all, a curb value coda. A few neighbors fill the space with asphalt. Others plant prim mounds of multicolored lantana, rosemary and lavender bushes, pots of bamboo, or birds of paradise; almost everything grows here. Many carefully groom the space with pebbles that coordinate with their house color. Many also just let weeds and visiting cars fill the space.
Last year I ripped out a native landscape garden I’d established in our strip during one enthusiasm in favor of my newest obsession – growing only/mostly things we can eat. Kid Two helped me dig deep holes in the clay dirt, mixing in fine soil, filling the space with tiny springs of bareroot grapes, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and huckleberries. One day, I thought, we’ll be able to pick a few berries as we walk to the beach, or gather an after-school snack, or maybe even grow enough for a batch of homegrown jam. Dream-berries.
The reality of a berry patch has certainly not been as glamorous as my fantasy. We navigated the jigsaw puzzle of drip irrigation only once, but everything else is continuous. Fertilizing, mulching, weeding the prickly California roses that kept sprouting up, figuring out how to train the prickly brambles away from the street, from scratching my arms and leaving stickers in my thumb. We’ve done the work randomly, mindlessly, losing track, really of when to expect a harvest.
Life was that much sweeter then, after pulling into the driveway from vacation – mind already building the endless to do list of unpacking, laundry, and grocery shopping – and were greeted by armfuls of blackberry vines studded with purple, ripe fruit. Our berries grew up, just like our children, when we weren’t paying attention.
Our home-grown blackberries are large and stain our fingers, tasting of equal parts sweet and tart and, I imagine, of a bit of the salt air and fog in which they’ve ripened.