A Special Basil Gardner Friend Thursa Revenaugh

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Written by Mickey Revenaugh

Theres always been a backyard garden at 321 Oleander, from the day we moved there in 1968 and our Mom planted Swiss chard along the brick wall where the previous tenants had created a bed for decorative shrubs that never took root. Perhaps they got discouraged by the intense arid heat of the Central California summers, but that never stopped Mom. In no time, that Swiss chard grew as tall as she was and its bitter boiled green leaves found their way onto our dinner plates night after night.  The basil was planted next to the dill and what a delight it all was.

Mom had one full-time job as a social worker and another full-time job trying to keep us kids in one piece on her own, but she always managed to keep a garden growing. Three kinds of tomatoes, sage, snap peas, and cukes. Hollyhocks to the eaves of the house, four oclocks on the side, hens and chickens, an army of irises. After wed all grown and gone and shed retired, Moms garden got more and more elaborate, its pickable sweets and gewgaws the delight of visiting grandkids.

Thats what made the tangle of empty pots and weeds in the backyard so disheartening after Mom broke her hip. Taking turns caring for her, wed look out the back window at the desolate patch of brown and see only loss, decline. It was a relief that first year after her fall whenfirst summer turned the whole town sepia and then winter left the surrounding croplands fallow. Just wouldnt have seemed right for things to go on growing when our Mom was struck still.

But when spring came around again, our eldest sister couldnt take it anymore. She paid the guy who cuts our Moms grass an extra fifty to come back with his Rototiller and turned the dead garden into a blank soil canvas. Then she headed back to Alaska for a months respite with the parting words, If you feel like thinking about a garden

Our little brother, now a grown genius, had the first shift. Knowing that hydration is destiny in the Central Valley, he created an intricate homemade system of underground soaker hoses and multiple faucet heads so the whole 10 x 40 tilled bed could be deep-watered with one turn of the wrist. He also transformed Moms various abandoned garden decorations into planter boxes, trellises, and dividers, all ready for the plants to come.

It was my turn next, and I tackled the task with my two favorite tools: a computer and a credit card. I made a more-or-less to scale diagram of the garden with icons for various plants red circles for tomatoes, mottled green ovals for zucchini, sticks with smiley faces for sunflowers then posted them on Google Docs and asked my siblings to help plot out the plants. Then I hit both the local nursery and Home Depot for a cornucopia of seeds and seedlings. I was used to gardening in my over-shaded New York yard and believed in having back-ups to back-ups because half the stuff would never even come up anyway.

Actual planting was guided by our middle sister, the only one of us whod ever grown a serious garden in a climate like this one. Shed even co-gardened with our Mom as a high schooler way back in the day, so she knew about things like planting the various vined things apart from each other, and when to put a paper plate under the head of a cantaloupe.

We all had a part to play with Mom bemusedly supervising from her bed on the other side of the house. Wed bring her the updated plan printouts and empty seed packets, seek her advice on the relative merits of cherry tomatoes vs. beefsteaks. (Plant both, she advised, so we did.) Once the seeds were in the ground with their careful markers and water system had its test run, there was nothing to do but wait.

Within a week, there was very little brown left to see on our garden canvas things were sprouting like crazy. Within a month it was clear that every single zucchini seed had taken root and was competing to produce the biggest leaves, the most blossoms, the fattest vines. The seed tomatoes were in a race with the store-bought plants to see whod put out the most fruit first. Sunflowers shot up 4 feet, then 6, then 10 and 12 by mid-summer. A riot of cantaloupe turned the makeshift trellis into a mountain of green festooned with perfect melon spheres.

A forest of dill bumped up against two kinds of basil tall and bushy enough to be mistaken for a fragrant hedgerow.

And we all agreed that standing too close to the pumpkin patch was hazardous the vines were growing so fast it seemed they could wrap around your legs before you had time to move.

All summer we harvested zucchini the size of small children, tomatoes by the bushel, herbs, melons, even a cucumber or two. Although the carrots only grew a couple inches long, their greens came up past our knees. The pumpkins were huge way before their time, and a few mated with their squash cousins to created pumpkinis (or zuchkins – we were never sure which).

We set up a Free Veggies stand out on the front sidewalk near the foot of the ramp wed built for Mom when shed first fallen, back when we were sure shed be tooling around with her walker in no time. Wed bring each new astonishment to her bedside and say, invariably, Can you believe this came out of YOUR garden? She was the only one who seemed not the least bit surprised.

Now another autumn is upon us, and the Rototiller guy has come and gone again. The abandoned weed patch that became the mother of all gardens is now a rich brown canvas once again. Like our Mom, its ready for whatever comes next.

You can read more about my mom and myself here:


Melody Lea Lamb

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

MelodyNo Gravatar October 25, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Wonderful, delightful and so beautifully presented! Thank you very much for sharing my mom's story.
~Melody Lea Lamb


Barbara HorterNo Gravatar December 29, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Wow! The Revenaugh women in still anoteher adventure.! (with help from brother) Ha!Ha! I wish to adopt your family. Bless your hearts!
Did your family coin the phrase "Where there's a will, there's a way?" If not you certainly exemplyfy the idea!


ZNo Gravatar February 22, 2010 at 5:33 am

A tender, loving celebration of family, gorgeously written. I feel richer for having read it.


Aislinn O'ConnorNo Gravatar April 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Tender, touching and inspirational – a beautiful celebration of a warm and loving family life. Thanks so much for sharing it :–)


Tatum KamNo Gravatar November 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

Great post I must say. Simple but yet interesting and engaging. Keep up the awesome work!


Wilfredo DuvalNo Gravatar November 26, 2010 at 9:01 am

I have to say, I dont know if its the clashing colours or the bad grammar, but this blog is hideous! I mean, I dont want to sound like a know-it-all or anything, but could you have possibly put a little bit more effort into this subject. Its really interesting, but you dont represent it well at all, man. Anyway, in my language, there are not much good source like this.


RamonaNo Gravatar December 9, 2010 at 9:00 am

We all have our opinions and I’m sorry you don’t care for my style. I have an idea! Why don’t you start your own blog on the subject of Basil and then it will be how you would like it. Maybe I can visit your blog for my research.
Love Your Basil,


Kasyna GryNo Gravatar December 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us.


Roselyn HubkaNo Gravatar December 4, 2010 at 12:17 am

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Gry Hazardowe PokerNo Gravatar December 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm

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RamonaNo Gravatar December 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

Most of the information is from my personal experiences. Some I research and apply to my experiences and write about the subject too. The recipes as you can see by the videos, I prepare. I hope you enjoy and can get something useful from my blog.
Love Your Basil,


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