Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A season of rainbows

It's the end of a season, a season of rainbows. Rainbow chard, to be precise. After six months of growth on a sprinkling of water and a handful of compost, after feeding our family of five a couple of meals every week, after shooting up to glorious seed, their time is over. The plants, too tall in their seeding, withered and toppled in a hot wind; and I pulled them out.

But before they disappear completely into compost, I would like to remember them. Red, yellow, pink, orange, cream. Blazing stalks holding up impossibly large leaves, deep green and glossy. They force their roots into our worst soil, rock hard clay, breaking it up as they grow. I starve them, and withhold water, and still they produce leaf after leaf after leaf.

Every few days I collect an armload of stems for quiche, for spanakopita, for frittata, for bruschetta. It's free food, an abundance just outside the back door. I find my children chewing in the garden, bright green leaves jutting out their mouths as they sneak an illicit snack. Tsk tsk, I say, pretending to be horrifed, while they giggle green and juicy. They gnaw on the stalks, and try to decide which colour tastes best.

At seeding time, the chard shoots up seven feet tall. There it stands, swaying and catching the late afternoon sun. Pixies! says a friend, amazed. Those plants must harbour pixies! Pixies in the garden!

Beyond them swings a hammock, red, green and gold. The chard grows thick; the hammock disappears behind a leafy camouflage.

Now, the seeds are collected in a brown paper bag. The stems poke out of the compost heap, bright yellow, ruby red, creamy pink. The ground is cleared. And it's time to fall back on lettuces, baby rocket, and spinach from the market while the seedlings grow.*

As I sadly mused the end of my leafy rainbows, at least for now, a harsh shriek pierced my thoughts. I looked up. Lorikeets were hanging in the pear tree; they took off with a crimson flash of their wings, calling to each other. They are annual visitors; they have returned. To my delight, I realised that we have rainbows in the garden even now, but this time, they are rainbows with wings.

*Of course, I haven't managed to grow seedlings ready for the time the old plants are finished. Sigh.

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