Ficus carica

God Hates Figs.

Go ahead, Mary, I implore you.  Conduct an internet search on the word “fig” and see what pops up.  Use Google, use Bing.  Doesn’t matter.  “God Hates Figs” will be one of your available links.  I speak from experience, having recently conducted that very search with my newly-arrived, infantile fig tree cradled in one hand, the other hand painstakingly typing.  I was flabbergasted.

It turns out that this slogan – God Hates Figs – is commonly used on counter protest signs and banners at events, such as funerals, being picketed by that cesspool of evil, the Westboro Baptist Church, whose own neon-rainbow-colored signage most often reads “God Hates Fags”.  Giggle.  No one is as clever as the gays when it comes to counter protest slogans, won’t you agree?

Don’t let me get carried away about the inbred, misaligned, un-American vileness that is the Westboro Baptist Church.  I call that Kansas bunch “God’s Atheists”, because surely there is not a cult in existence that, in the misappropriated use of the name of their proclaimed Lord, march further away from the supposed word of God, further away from any religion’s code of behavior, than they do.  An aside: yes, Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper, there are “true religions” other than the Westboro Baptist Church (which, mind you, is disowned by both the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention, possibly one of the most right-wing organizations in the entire world).

I have no good words to write on this subject – there are no good words for the evil that is embodied by the Westboro Baptist Church.  What good words can be said about a group of ill-informed rednecks who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers and those of innocent youth killed during the commission of hate crimes.  Really, these villains will protest anywhere they can garner some public recognition of their hateful existence.  They are a crazy, malignant tumor strangling the pure purpose out of first amendment rights, and I am very sorry that I am not an ethereal surgeon with a sharp scalpel to excise them.  I would toss them to the biological waste bin and light the match to their incineration.  If I were God.

Turns out, though, that Jesus, if not God directly, apparently did hate figs.  Go figure.  Mark 11:12-20 includes an account of Jesus cursing a fig tree.  Seems he and his entourage were leaving Bethany and Jesus was in the mood for a little sumpin’-sumpin’ snack.  Seeing a fig tree in the distance, he went to find some fruit, but when he reached it he found nothing but leaves.  It was not the season for figs.

So, creationists, are you telling me that the son of the entity who supposedly created everything didn’t know it wasn’t fig season?  He was at least thirty years old at this point, and had lived in the area (where figs were and still are a mainstay in the diet) for his entire life.  He should have known, I’m just saying.  I grew up on a farm and I knew when the wheat was ready, the alfalfa was due, the tomatoes were ripe, and the apples were done.  By the time I was ten.  What kind of the son of God doesn’t know when his father’s figs are in season?

Besides, if he could make water into wine and feed a crowd from one loaf of bread, what’s the problem with whipping up some out-of-season figs?  Greenhouse growers do it all of the time!  None of this makes sense to me.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Jesus had a hissy fit and smote that fig tree and the darn thing withered.  God, or at least his emissary, it seems, may hate figs, after all.  However, I am positive that if God really exists – which is in itself too much of a stretch for me personally, but in my world you are welcome to your beliefs as long as you don’t picket a funeral or insist that I believe them, too – then said God hates the Westboro Baptist Church the most.  More than anything.

When I lived in Seattle, Washington, during the years of my life I like to refer to as my “Garden of Eden Period”, because Puget Sound is truly the land of constant gentle rain and eye-splitting greenery, I brazenly coveted my very religious neighbor’s fig tree.  His wife?  Not so much.  Oh, sure, we were friends of a sort.  She and I chatted and exchanged recipes over the fence, even occasionally gossiped about the antics of the other neighbors.  Once, out of misplaced sense of neighborly obligation, I accepted the brand new Book of Mormon she handed over (it went straight into the Goodwill box, but, still, I accepted it with nary an eye roll or tasteless anti-God or pro-polygamy comment).  We got along, the neighbor’s wife and I, but I didn’t covet her in the least.  Too buxom, too wifey, too focused on her narrow religious viewpoint.  She was better off with him, a misogynistic church elder who appreciated her feminine attributes, sense of duty, and supplicant demeanor.

By God, though, I wanted, I needed, I had to have that fig tree.

The horrifying fact was they hated the tree.  They treated it with pointed disdain.  “Brings too many birds,” they complained.  “Takes up half the yard and won’t stop spreading.”

They never harvested the fruit, and even worse, they never offered it to the neighbors.  Instead, they let the starlings and robins and blue jays have it.  Adding insult to injury, every couple of years they hacked that which offended them back to raw, latex-bleeding stumps.  But every time, rapture-like, that fig tree rose again.  And I loved it.  That tree touched me; I couldn’t get enough of the huge, lobed leaves, imagined myself strolling about my own private Garden of Eden in a primitive fig-leaf loincloth and a state of unadulterated purity.  I peered through the holes in our shared fence like some kind of fruit-obsessed Peeping Tom.  I wanted to caress the figlets until they ripened and transformed themselves into Fig Newtons.  Yes, I coveted, even though I had never (still haven’t!) eaten an actual fig – the cookies from my childhood are the closest I have ever come.

Interesting fact:  the cookie is named not after a person, say a plump, grandmotherly Mrs. Newton in her aromatic 1950’s kitchen, but after Newton, MA, near where they were first commercially mass produced in an industrial bakery.

I didn’t care whether I liked figs or not, I wanted to run my sweaty palms along the smooth, rubbery branches.  I coveted that tree for its leaves and quirky habits and lofty architectural structure, for its elegance and beauty.  I was sure I would learn to love the fruit.

And then the good neighbors had it removed, lobes and fruit and roots and all.  They smote that fig!  I was so devastated I had to move.  Now I’m in the other Washington, and still I covet.  I’m a homo, though, and like most homos, when I covet, I obtain.  This past spring, in a vodka-inspired spate of late-night online shopping, I ordered one dwarf Celeste Fig tree from a reputable nursery.  And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  A reputable nursery, I have discovered through my years, will not mail the plants until it is the appropriate planting season in one’s particular climate zone.  Unlike Jesus, a reputable nursery is aware of the proper seasons.  Reputable, yes.  Rational, yes.  But still maddening.

Finally it arrived – all six inches and two leaves of it.  I understood I ordered a dwarf tree, purposefully, having overcrowded my garden to a point near hoarding as it is.  But seriously?  Six inches of fig twig, three roots, two painfully folded leaves.  It was the saddest specimen I’d ever received in the mail.  I named it Baby Moses, imagined the infant floating down the Nile (explains why it took so long to arrive) and immediately hit my gardening resource books, any gardener’s best friend.  What, pray tell, did Baby Moses need from me?

I have more gardening resource books than is called for, really.  They occupy my special shelf, near the bed, next to the personal lubricant and whatever other accoutrements an old queen needs at bedside.  Mr. Perfect, the very patient boyfriend, sometimes intimates that perhaps we should cull them.  Do I really need the antique ones?  Isn’t the information outdated?  Do I need to know how to grow “Wildflowers on the Windowsill”?  Why do I read and reread and reread Green Thoughts?  Isn’t once enough?

Green Thoughts, by the way, is my all-time favorite book and one that I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone, gardener or not.  This beautiful treatise was written by Eleanor Perényi, published in 1981, and is still the wittiest and wisest book on any of my shelves.  As a wide-eyed and innocent Queen Gardener, at the age of twenty-three, I wrote Ms. Perényi a gushing fan letter – the only fan letter I have ever written.  I described how much I loved her book and how it touched me, and I revealed, with some embarrassment, that life had reduced me to a point where I had no more than a shady balcony and some terracotta pots for purposes of gardening.  Imagine my surprise when I received a very warm, hand-written answer thanking me for my profuse admiration and advising me that I, indeed, kept good company as it was the ancient Romans who first perfected the art of gardening in pots.

My answer to Mr. Perfect is a resounding YES!, I need them.  Case in point:  Baby Moses needs my attention and somewhere in this stack, I will find the answer.

Do you know how many of my multitude of books had reference to Fig?  Zero.  Zilch.  None.  Zap.  My fig twig may as well have been an unholy ghost, an unwanted pariah, a ghastly phantom.  Perhaps all my gardening books were edited by the kin of my ex-neighbors, the un-coveted Mormon housewife and her church elder husband.  In the world of gardening books, Baby Moses did not warrant advice.  It was time to turn to the gardener’s second-best friend, the internet, where, after my initial foray into God’s hatred of figs (but not as much as he hates the Wesboro Baptist Church), I found sufficient information.

As it turns out, the edible fig was most likely the first plant ever purposefully cultivated.  Nine subfossil figs dating to about 9400-9200 BC were found in an archeological dig near Jericho.  A subfossil, by the way, is simply organic material that has not fossilized completely due to a variety of conditions – you know, like Cher.

These nine figs predate the domestication of wheat, barley, or beans, and may very well be the first known instance of gardening.  No wonder I covet.  Here’s another interesting tidbit:  Cato the Elder wrote about fig cultivation in his treatise, De Agri Cultura, the first ever gardening book and the oldest surviving work of Latin prose (written about 160 BC).  Learning this did not help me understand why modern gardening books make no mention of the fig tree, however, I was sure that Cato the Elder must have been a Queen Gardener.  Unfortunately, I could find no confirming reference to any homosexual proclivities.  Indeed, he once held a handful of figs out to the Roman Senate to symbolize (as figs are known to symbolize) their effeminacy, their weakness in taking care of that pesky Greek problem.  Cato the Elder, it seems, was no queen.

One last fascinating fig tidbit before we move on to cultivation:  The word “sycophant” comes from the Greek word sykophantes, meaning “one who shows the fig”. “Showing the fig” is a vulgar gesture made with the hand.  Westboro Baptist Church, I show you my fig.

While my gardening books failed, me, the internet has much to say about figs and their cultivation.  Most of it, while fascinating, has little do to with the home gardener and his fig tree.  For instance, a fig is not a fruit.  It is an invaginated (tee hee), or inside-out, flower. Scientifically, this is called an infrutescence.

Stop yawning, Mary, we are getting there.  Remember, patience is a virtue.

In their natural habitat, most “wild” (caduceus) figs are pollinated by a specific wasp.  Each fig variety has its own wasp variety, and only that wasp can pollinate that fig.  This leads me to question:  if all this was whipped up in a seven-day creation extravaganza, then didn’t someone’s God still have just a tad bit too much time on his hands?  Why not tackle pestilence or disease or famine?  Why bother with these beautiful, but trifling, symbiotic relationships?  This intricate, intimate plant/insect relationship seems to point a bony finger straight at evolution to me.  But I digress.

To make baby figs, a fertilized female wasp enters the infrutescence through the sicon, a tiny hole in the crown (the ostiole). She crawls about on the inflorescence, the thread-like flowers inside the fig, and pollinates the females.  She does this with male fig pollen she has carried in with her.  Female wasp pollinating female flower with borrowed male bits:  can we spell l-e-s-b-i-a-n-s?  I wonder if she carries a tiny little turkey baster in her tool belt.

After all this crawling about on the inflorescence, the poor, exhausted wasp-ette lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies, which means every caduceus fig has a dead wasp in it – no wonder I’ve never eaten one!  After weeks of development inside the fig the baby male wasps emerge first, before the females, through holes they chew in their galls.  A gall is plant tissue that is taken over by the embryonic wasps, and turned into a sort of infrutescence condo association.  These boys then fertilize the unhatched females by depositing semen in the hole they’ve left in the gall.  Sort of a fig glory hole, I am imagining.  Pump and dump, or something like that.  Not that I’ve ever seen a glory hole.  But I’ve read.

The males later return to the gall and chew the hole larger so that the newborn and pregnant females can emerge.  The females, on their way out, collect pollen from the male flowers inside the infrutescence in order to pollinate their own fig, which they have just about forty-eight hours to find before they die.

Having written all of that, I am both strangely turned on and completely exhausted.  And I have yet to touch on the subject of fig cultivation.  Fortunately, the fig trees sold to home gardeners are persistent (or common) figs, and do not require wasps, galls, or pollination.  The fruit simply happens.  Thank you, God, for putting aside your symbiotic tinkering long enough during your creation binge to develop parthenocarpic figs.  The most common types of these figs are Adriatic, Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste (like my beloved Baby Moses).

The fig tree is, indeed, picturesque.  The large, bright leaves, rough hairy on the upper side and soft hairy on the underside, lend a tropical feel during summer months.  Larger varieties can grow to fifty feet, but more common is ten to thirty feet.  And they spread; their width often matches their height.  However, if you didn’t inherit your own Green Acres, you can follow my lead and get your own Baby Moses, who is advertised to get no taller (or wider!) than six feet.

Fig branches are often described as muscular – which may go great lengths in explaining my coveting.  However, the wood is weak and decays rapidly, and the twigs are pithy rather than woody.  When cut, fig branches will excrete a latex sap that is irritating to human skin.  Figs, especially the dwarf varieties, lend themselves to pot gardens or espalier techniques.  Any fig will require training and pruning, however, use caution or you may lessen your harvest.  Figs typically produce two crops per year. The first, or breba crop, develops in the spring on the previous year’s growth.  This crop is generally smaller and of a poorer quality.  In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year’s growth and ripens in the late summer or fall.  It is therefore best to prune in the early fall after the main crop is harvested.  The following spring’s breba crop will be reduced, but the main crop will not be impacted.

Other than that, make sure your fig tree is planted so as to receive full sun, water as needed especially when trees are young.  If potted (as is Baby Moses), you should fertilize during the summer months with a weak, nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, and most of the soil in the container should be replaced every three years.  Fig trees planted in the ground typically do not require fertilization.  Figs are advertised as hardy to zones 5a or 5b, however, prolonged freezing (defined as -10 to -20 C degrees for more than a few days) will kill a tree to the ground.  Therefore, if you are unfortunate enough to live somewhere that cold, you should ensure that your tree is planted near a light-colored, south-facing wall and for further protection, erect a frame over the plant, covering and surrounding it with heavy carpet for the winter.  You might consider doing the same for yourself as well.  Or move South for the colder months.  I hear Fort Lauderdale is most welcoming to Queen Gardeners.

If your fig tree does freeze to the ground, chances are very good that it will grow back from the roots.  They are nothing if not persistent.

My friend, The Internet, informs me that figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. Pick them when immature and that is what you will get:  immature figs. They will not ripen.  A ripe fig will be slightly soft and will begin to bend at the neck. The leathery skin may begin to crack.  I am advised to harvest the fruit gently to avoid bruising.  It is reported that fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored in the refrigerator for only two or three days; however, some fig varieties (including Baby Moses Celeste figs) are delicious when dried. They take four to five days to dry in the sun and ten to twelve hours in a dehydrator. Dried figs can be stored for six to eight months.

As of this writing, Baby Moses has reached a height (and width!) of about three feet, and his rough hairy upper/soft hair underside leaves are approaching six or seven inches in length.  Whether one believes in creation or evolution, watching the leaves unfurl from tiny bright whorls to full-on loincloths is a beautiful and remarkable process.  Mr. Perfect has pointed out that at the base of each leaf, a tiny invaginated infrutescence (God, I love saying that) has appeared, and it seems we are on track to enjoy at least a small, wasp-free fig harvest come late summer.

If God does, indeed, hate, then I am certain that he hates the Westboro  Baptist Church.  And although he, or his son, may hate figs (why create them, then?), I am certain that I will love them.  And if not, I will still love my beautiful Baby Moses.


(Ocimum Basilicum, or in some notations, Ocymum Basilicum)

Back in the dark ages, my first boyfriend and I lived for a few years in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I had just left the farm of my childhood, and although Utah didn’t provide a thunderous cultural awakening, it still wasn’t a bad environment for a naïve eighteen-year-old to embrace his sexual identity.  I have since come to realize just how sheltered my Salt Lake City life was, but at the time I basked in the newfound glory of living in the relative freedom of urban life, frolicking amongst my people.

Boyfriend-number-one and I often visited the charming galleries and restaurants inhabiting one of the old trolley barns.  It was called Trolley Square (probably still is).  All the gay boys shopped there (probably still do).  It was a bar without the drinks.

One afternoon, in a remote corner on an upper floor, tucked away from the swishing masses, number one and I stumbled upon an oddly darkened antique/collectibles shop.  The ornate lettering on the sign read:  Basil’s.

“Oh look,” I said as we stepped over the funereal threshold, “Bay-sill’s.”

“Baaah-zul’s,” bleated the skeleton-thin figure behind the cash register, rising to face us.  “It rhymes with dazzles.”

He was a frightening, coroner-esque poof of indeterminate but advancing age, dressed in the same ill-fitting black suit that he may have been wearing as he stepped from the womb.  This was the kind of superior-for-no-good-reason homo destined for only one role in life:  a model for gay caricaturists.

This one wore his haughty bitterness as a badge of honor.

“Puh-leeze,” he continued, his stick fingers clutching imaginary pearls below the quivering point of his bony jaw line, “for mercy’s sake, why can’t you hicks pronounce my name correctly?”

One plucked eyebrow arched skyward, pointed like a poison arrow tip poised on the quivering drawstring of his forehead and aimed at the target of me.  He scanned head to toe.

“From which turnip patch do you hail?”

So much for living amongst my own.

Baaaah-zul’s arrow of scorn drilled a realization through the very heart of my innocence:  gays are as disparate a group as any, a family whose shared classification no more guarantees brotherhood than shared DNA does.  I recoiled, deflated, somewhat in fear of this apparition but mostly in embarrassment.  I was frazzled (rhymes with basil-ed). My ignorance had been illuminated, and my only recourse was to part with more dollars than I could afford for an antique gold and amethyst ring.  That showed him.  Never mind that the ring was stolen years later one summer afternoon by an English-as-a-second-language laundromat attendant/trick I dragged home for some south-of-the-border adventure.  The ring meant little to me and I haven’t really missed it; what has stuck with me is the old queen’s pronunciation lesson.  Some things are never forgotten.

The herb Basil (repeat after me:  Baaah-zul) is a fast-growing hot weather annual (behaving as a perennial in the absence of winter), originally native to India and parts of Asia but in modern times actively cultivated all over the globe for its culinary prowess.  It is in fact difficult to imagine a useful garden plot without a pot or patch of sweet basil.  But that’s the opinion of an aging he-whore who finds the fragrance of basil so pheromonal that he is tempted to roll among the plants like some wild sow in heat, smearing himself with a green lust that is guaranteed to reel in a youthful boar.

In more civilized moments I imagine bottling the essence to dab behind my ears come January to ward off winter’s ennui.  Apparently I am not alone in this desire:  an internet search reveals that Aroma-Pure (of Utah!) will ship ½-ounce of pure basil oil, advertised to strengthen compassion and faith and bring clarity, for a mere $15.75, (roughly the same price as charged for oil of jasmine).

But basil is first and foremost a culinary herb, used in Thai, Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, French, and Chinese foods (just to name a few).  We could barge headlong into an argument about the comparable tastiness of these cuisines, but let’s not.  I’m working on the concept of compromise these days and I hope we can basically agree that the world of dining would be less inspired in the absence of basil, favorite cuisines aside.

Given its usefulness, it’s fortunate that basil is veritable child’s play to cultivate provided it gets at least a half day of full sun and there is no danger of freezing.  Less sun and the plant sits, as stubbornly refusing to flourish as a drag queen who forgot her wig.  This show ain’t happening.  And even the lightest of frost will blacken the leaves, from which the plant will not recover.  Basil is a temperamental and spoiled head-strong lover; cold weather is your opinion.  He requires careful tip-toeing, for to dare speak your mind will frost his tenderness.

In temperate climes basil seed can be sown directly in the garden in mid- to late-spring, when freezing is but a disagreeable memory.  Thin the sprouts to ten inches apart as they unfurl but don’t despair the uprooting of the hapless children:  the whole seedlings, their white rootlets rinsed of soil, add zest to a salad of field greens or layered on crostini with thin slices of plum tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.  Yummy – almost as refreshing as sex and not nearly as messy.

Northern gardeners should start the plants indoors or under glass (or purchase seedlings at the local nursery), transplanting to a well-drained location with good sun after the babies have four true leaves.

Unlike the corpse-like Baaah-zul of Utah, the herb specimen blends well with others.  It offers a refreshing touch of utility to the cottage garden or herbaceous border, the glossy leaves especially complementing the duller foliage of zinnias or the hairy pallor of the sages and lavenders.  Basil is also manageable in pots and planters as long as they are not allowed to dry to dust.

Wherever you tend this useful herb, keep the soil moist.  If the plant does wilt slightly from inattention (tsk, tsk, Mary…did you forget to pay attention?), it should perk up in short order after watering.  A weak application of water-based fertilizer will stimulate growth but be careful; too frequent or too strong an application will cause the leaves to yellow or develop mildew.  Otherwise, the only effort necessary is consistent pruning to force bushy growth and prevent blooming.

Too bad relationships aren’t this easy.  In fact, the most trying aspect of basil is the inevitable argument over how to pronounce the word:  bay-sill or baaah-zul.  A previous boyfriend and I knew this one intimately (we won’t mention his chronological number or his name).  It became a running jab between us (he is of the pedestrian bay-sill persuasion while I, as we have learned, was pushed toward the more refined baaah-zul).  So back and forth we needled.  In my most ill-tempered, eyebrow arching moments I wondered if he not only intentionally mispronounced, but ascribed to the ancient Greek’s aversion to basil for its mythical connection to scorpions and all sorts of other unpleasant things.  That bastard!  Better off without him!

Meanwhile I, like the exalted Hindus of India, know basil to be holy.  Nearly as holy as me.

This kind of roller-coaster ride of a silly argument has derailed all of my past relationships.  We may have made it over a few peaks, a bit cramped in our little train car but still smelling nothing but the sweet scent of love, when our growing disagreements would slowly turn rancid until the day we awoke to wonder why we sleep next to such an imbecile.  Drama, drama, drama . . . then alone again, naturally. 

Mr. Current and I assign little value to these linguistic accusations.  It helps that he is not a native English speaker, and I don’t (yet) speak Portuguese, so the pronunciation of words is more often an amusement than an argument.  We giggle about our linguistic mistakes.  And as far as basil goes, we basically follow the lead of the sexy Italians, who proclaim it a symbol of love.  Bay-sill, Baah-zul…who cares, let’s make love. Oh those Italians!

I like this resolution, especially given that it is in the presence of love that I discovered the culinary joy of basil.

My friends Freddie and Jonah have been a couple for nearly forty years (since they were in kindergarten, Jonah quips, but I know he misrepresents).  We have been the best of friends for nearly as long, bearing witness to each other’s lives in intimate and sometimes sordid detail.   Let it suffice to say they have been my saviors an embarrassing number of times, and following one particularly tumultuous train wreck of a romance, I decreed that I would date no one but them.  I was half serious, but my insistent sexual cravings (urges best not satisfied with friends) prevented me from following through with the threat.  My libido shoved me back out into the world where I continued to inflict my brand of comeuppance on all takers.  It wasn’t until the occasion of my dear friends’ twenty-fifth anniversary, which coincided with the twenty-fifth boyfriend to slam the door to his heart in my nagging face, that I began to think I was approaching this relationship thing from the wrong angle.  I needed help.

“Tell me your secret,” I begged over dinner with these dear friends, hoisting a forkful of fresh-tossed pesto and farfalle.  This is one of Freddie’s specialties and something I learned to crave following a breakup.  It became comfort food for me.

“We have no secret,” Freddie replied in his matter-of-fact style.

“Yes we do,” Jonah countered.  “We don’t argue.”

“Yes we do.”

“No we don’t.”

I distracted myself with the artistic pattern of the bright green pesto sauce against the cream-colored pasta bow ties, and my mind wandered.  Perhaps it – a relationship – isn’t all that easy, I mused.

Or maybe it is, because in the time it took me to have this simple thought, my hosts moved on to another topic and the disagreement about whether or not they disagree faded away.  How can this be?  Nothing sours in their dealings with each other; no noxious weed stalks their Garden of Good Cheer just waiting for a moment of vulnerability when it can spring forth shouting, “I told you so!”

Like good kindergarteners, they leave their respective sandbox corners to play nice with each other in the middle ground.   Their secret, I observe, is that they allow each other to maintain a significant aura of self, yet they each foster a solid sense of their pairing.  Me thinks any couple could learn something from these two.

When pressed, Freddie draws a graphic of his concept of a relationship.  It is two circles of the same size, slightly overlapped, as if a cranky old typewriter got stuck and tapped the impressions of the two “O’s” in the word “MOON” without proper spacing between them.  One “O” is Freddie, and the other “O” is Jonah.  Each is wholly contained in his own separate sphere, yet at the intersection of the spheres, one-third of each is handed over to the common goal (the relationship).  The other two-thirds remain with the individual.  In essence, two people become three identities, and each identity – Freddie, Jonah, the relationship – is worth exactly two-thirds.  All carry equal and deserving weight.

Lesson learned, or at least in process.  I try to acknowledge that my Mr. Current is more than an extension of me, and regardless of how irrational I believe his habits to be, he is entitled to them.  I practice coming out of my corner to meet in the middle and I practice admitting my mistakes.  As often as reasonable I use the two most stress-reducing words in the English language.  “Yes, dear,” I say, and I try to mean it.  So far, so good:  almost three years and counting.  And we still like each other!  Even better, far from feeling negated, as I just knew I would if I released my stranglehold on righteousness, I feel increasingly complete.

Relationships, I am learning, are not a steady line on the graph of life.  We peak and we dip, we crest and then we sag.  But over time, the slumps and the highs average out to a life better spent with him than one spent without him.  As for basil, if the correct pronunciation of this old world aromatic herb is the most serious disagreement a couple ever has, and, trust me, it won’t be, then they should be able to maintain couple hood until the end of days. 

Freddie’s Pesto Sauce
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves (removed from stems)
2 large cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup packed chopped parsley
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup melted butter
salt to taste (but you definitely need some)

Combine everything in a blender on low, then medium (arrange ingredients so
blender blade will turn efficiently) until all has turned to a smooth paste.
Toss with hot, drained pasta. Mangia bene.


Merriam-Webster says a weed is “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth, especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants; an obnoxious growth, thing, or person.”

Basically, all plants are weeds in their natural locations, and any plant that is tended and fostered with love is not a weed.  It’s that simple.  Your role as Queen Gardener  is to determine what you desire and what you don’t, to sort the weeds from the non-weeds.  Such is life.  And just like life in general, that’s where the difficulty arises.  I mean, really, one man’s weed is another man’s prize.  This rings as true in gardening as it does in any facet of life.  Take dating:  his definition of an obnoxious date most likely differs from your definition.  You weed out smooth twinks in cropped tee shirts with dance tunes bubbling through their heads; he eschews shirtless hairy bears who toss ‘woofs’ in his direction….examples only, but I’m sure you catch my drift.  In the same way, how we chose to label a particular plant is sure to differ.

I lovingly tend plants that are true weeds on the farm I was raised on, specimens that my father demanded the destruction of in his detailed morning instructions – notes scribbled on his way out the door toward work every summer morning and prominently displayed with the implicit understanding that the task would be completed by the time he returned at day’s end . . . or else.

Not that there is a classic homo-pathological father/son relationship breakdown here (just ask my mother, who always agrees with me).  There is no hint of post-adolescent rebellion against a cold and distant father symbol.  I simply grow milkweed for its luscious pink snowball blooms – how very fabulous – and the dried seed pods which add a tantalizing bit of texture to fall floral arrangements.

Likewise, I lovingly tuck a few hardy cockleburs in a back corner of my garden, truly weed-like in the category of vigorous growth and absolutely uninspiring as far as foliage and bloom, but ingenious in seed design (their robin’s egg-sized pods with hooked spines were the inspiration for Velcro).  They warm me as they inspire memories of the battles my younger brother and I staged, their painful pellets, when hurled at full force, far more meaningful than any make-believe bullet.

Ain’t brotherly love a beautiful thing?

I also adore Russian Olives, a garden escapee that threatens to take over the northern Wyoming landscape that spawned me.  I have grown them pruned into a low hedge as well as molded into espaliers against a rock wall, beautiful with their grey-green slivers of quivering leaf suspended from glistening reddish-brown twigs.  Their tiny yellow flowers arrive in June and the heady, drifting lily-like fragrance never fails to induce homesickness.

This is not my father’s garden, and I can picture him spinning in his grave over the loving attention I lavish on my beauties.  But maybe it’s just my sun bonnet – he never did share my sense of fashion.

Even the all-American lawn is not immune to the weed/non-weed debate.  Mind you, I am not a fan of the stereotypical middle-class-American turf.  I consider the expanse of a lawn too labor intensive and space consuming to be of value, not to mention the overt, hetero-specific, suburban symbolism of the white picket fence-encased greenery.  Still, those who meticulously, obsessively, compulsively fertilize and aerate and water and mow and edge and clip and plug and seed and feed and weed…and on and on…argue vehemently about what constitutes a weed and what doesn’t.  Clover, buttercups, and oxeye daisy are all noxious pests to those who prefer a swath of virgin bluegrass, and furthermore are held up as the true culprit behind grass stains, not the grass, itself!

I say:  forget the lawn, I’ll take the virgin!

Meanwhile, more nostalgic souls wax poetically and remember green grass picnics of childhood among the flowers and buzzing bees.  Why, even dandelions, traditionally topping everyone’s list of weeds, can be harvested for soups and salads, therefore moving them from the undesirable to the desirable column, not to mention that their tender spring leaves provide nectar for the green lacewing, whose larvae devour many typical garden pests.  And those packets of wildflower seeds sold in nurseries and garden centers?  As beautiful as they may be, they are weeds in their natural environment.

This distinction between weeds and wildlings is far from clear, and to further muddy these waters, many undesirables are actually escapees – originally planted with purpose, they have moved beyond their allotted space and lumber towards obnoxiousness.  It is my theory that every garden contains its own particular weed, and more times than not it is the result of stupidity on the part of some previous gardener (I can just imagine someone voicing this very opinion as they attempt to eradicate my beloved Russian Olive espaliers).

I once had a tiny plot in Colorado that became overrun by someone else’s Creeping Bluebell, a common escapee that is very pretty at first blush but in short order will overtake every single inch of soil, crowding out the other plantings and driving any gardener crazy.  To make matters worse, it is foil-proof.  Attempt to pluck it out and the slippery stem separates from the turnip-like taproot, which immediately shoots out three spears to replace the one destroyed.  Digging the taproot out with a trowel is nearly impossible:  it is buried as far as 8 inches below the surface, and any tiny bit of root left remaining, even the smallest dependency, springs forth new growth that rises with stubborn, renewed vigor.  Even the chemical combatants, the herbicides, which I avoid in all but the most severe circumstances, do little more than cause a brief pause in the steady march of the creeping bluebell.

Overall, though, I advise the exercise of restraint when weeding.  Destroy the volunteer sprouts in your garden and you risk destroying something truly unique.  My original Mexican Sunflower seeds, which I have nurtured through five states and twice as many gardens, were harvested from a single plant that appeared without invitation in an arid parking strip.  On my hands and knees in my garden, clearing away that which I assume to be undesirable, I have discovered tiny ferns, self-sown foxglove and poppies, coleus, impatiens, hollies, and a myriad of other valuable plants.  One infant blue spruce I discovered in a corner in Utah, when last visited, rose ten feet over a lovely pond and shade garden.

Some weeds are like that solid, reasonable (i.e., perfect) man you have been overlooking, the one who slips in under your radar while you are distracted by the flashy little whore dancing on the speaker box.  Next thing you know, you are driving cross-country to start your new, married life with someone who at first glance you might have yanked out and tossed to the compost heap.  Plants and reasonable men know where they want to grow and, furthermore, they stubbornly refuse to be pigeon-holed as weeds.  For this reason I find it suitable for my purposes to identify before plucking; I may actually end up desiring what appears without my initial consent.

In cases where weeding is a necessity, as in the vegetable garden and among the specimen plantings of beds and nursery boxes, plucking that which offends thee at an early stage will usually suffice.  Just make sure you get the entire embryonic weed, root system and all; otherwise the remains will rise Phoenix-like to haunt you until the end of days.    I am reminded of my ex-boyfriend Fernando, who I tried unsuccessfully to eradicate no less than three times before I finally succeeded in removing him part-and-parcel.  Lesson learned:  the only being more tenacious than an established weed root is an established psychotic boyfriend.

More proactively, applying a four- or five-inch layer of mulch hay, straw, pine needles, seaweed, any organic material that is native and handy to your area – will deprive the weeds of light and air and kill off the intruders.  If not killed outright, those that manage to force their way through are weakened and spindly, and can usually be uprooted with ease

The true moral of this story is that a weed is a weed only if you label it such.  And the gay folk, more so than most, understand the implication of negative labeling.  Who among us hasn’t recoiled at being called queer, fag, dyke, or sissy?  Labels damage.  But like the negatively-labeled plants, although we may not initially be valued where we sprout, we manage to flourish vigorously.  Even when some proclaim our obnoxiousness, we know differently.  Like my Russian Olives, we are sentimental, artistic, and strong.  We take our lessons from the Creeping Bluebells:  we march onward.

A Note From Your Queen’s Garden

Hello readers.  Welcome.  Please, roll up your sleeves and put on your sunscreen:  we are about to take a busman’s holiday in an old Queen’s Garden.  And don’t be afraid to get dirty!  We aren’t afraid of a little grit under the nails in this garden patch.  So, come, dear reader, walk with me.  You won’t know what you might stumble upon until we are there, but here’s what I can promise you:  some solid gardening advice, a whole lot of poignant reminiscences, and my own occasionally strident political opinion.  All delivered to you with (hopefully) some humor.  Join me, one queen just a little long in the tooth.  Hold my hand and together let’s walk this garden path.