I didn't realize it at the time, but I was incredibly fortunate to grow up on home-grown fruit and vegetables, and to have a whole half-acre yard (plus the half-acre yards of our two next-door neighbors) for my own uses. Sometimes late at night when I can't sleep, I begin to wax nostalgic about the dry canyon breezes and Utah crickets chirping in unison coming through my window on hot summer nights, the rooster at the house behind us crowing at all hours, eating the "bowl" of the watermelon on the stone bench by the wood-fired hot tub one dew-soaked summer morning, or the long days I spent reading outside and eating fresh-picked peas, beans, and apricots.
My parents made the garden a family affair. The took care of tilling the soil before planting and added manure every few years, but we all planted, weeded, watered, and harvested together. The layout generally changed from year to year, but somehow many of my memories refer to a particular layout. Walking down the flagstones that bisect the garden length-wise, you first see kale and swiss chard in the first row on your right, parsley on your left. I don't remember ever planting these - they might have come up by themselves, year after year. Beyond them are several rows of potatoes and tomatoes. Almost a whole quadrant of corn, though corn was discontinued later because it took up so much space and didn't yield much. Over in the back right were the vines and other things I didn't pay much attention to: summer and winter squashes, some melons (though they never did well either), peppers, etc. To the lower right were the green and wax beans, and in the upper left were the shell and sugar snap peas.
The crops I liked the best were the peas (I defined my summer by their picking times), beans, corn (especially picked fresh and grilled immediately), and zucchini. (My sister and I would hurl the ones that escaped our timely picking and became giant into the fence or feed them to the horses that kept the weeds down next door. My favorite way of eating them was sliced lengthwise and steamed with cheese.) We also grew red potatoes and carrots that came up looking like bulbous gnarled hands but tasted super-sweet, but we didn't eat these until the next winter when my parents would go out back and dig through the snow and the leaves they piled on for insulation (and next year's mulch) to the veggies below. We also grew a couple of rows of tomatoes, but I never liked them much as a kid (and now I may be allergic, in fact).
Flanking the garden on either side was a green strip of grass, then grapes on the right (which I didn't like at all: they had small seeds, were pretty runny inside, and had thicker skins and less sweetness than store-bought grapes, a combination of factors that made them unpalatable to me) and asparagus and sometimes strawberries on the left. I also had my own garden for a couple of years near the asparagus, below the snowball tree. Our next door neighbor had raspberries that we'd snack on all summer, and now my mom and stepdad have raspberries too. Our yard used to be an orchard, so we also had six full-grown apple trees (though they didn't produce much of anything), two apricot trees, a pear tree, a plum tree, and an English prune tree scattered throughout the yard.
Our neighborhood has a communal irrigation ditch, an important part of our garden's success. We usually bought rights to divert the water into the carefully-cleared rows of our garden once or twice a week. It would often pool in the grass at the base of the garden, where my sister and I would cavort and splash. We also played in the irrigation ditch itself, a small muddy stream that went through the back corner of our yard. The Holladay township has talked several times about killing the irrigation water supply to quench the rising demand for drinking water, but so far it's still flowing.
Every summer and fall we'd all pick the fruit and vegetables together, and then my mom would puree and dry fruit leather and freeze and can much of the rest. We also used to pick cherries at an orchard up north of Salt Lake, and these canned cherries were one of my favorite childhood foods. (I used to call them "bobbies" and remember fishing out new cans from the cellar all the time. They were canned with the pits intact, and had the most wonderful sweet juice around them.)
My parents kept goats in a red shed and a fenced-off enclosure when I was very small (before I was born they tended a farm with goats and chickens in Draper), but as long back as I can remember, the enclosure was used for grandpa's fancy irises. (Now the fence is gone and fruit trees are growing instead of irises.) My sister and I knew every inch of our yard: the sandbox, the mysterious and exciting woodpile around the hot tub, the huge fir trees in our yard and the neighbor's, the boulders we'd climb up and slide down. One summer when I was in junior high, I built a treehouse in the apple tree at the top of the garden that's still there, though now it's becoming overrun with grape vines.
I'm just now realizing how unique my experience was, and that even in my neighborhood, it's going extinct. Developers have been buying up blocs of the mostly 40's-era homes and replacing them with twice as many blunderbus houses on tiny lots - no space for a garden, no more irrigation ditch, no orchard trees. (I predict that when energy prices start rising, the owners won't be able to give
away these these ugly, homogeneous houses.) Meanwhile, I long for that garden that I don't have space to grow, for the pets I'm now allergic to, for a childhood that's becoming impossible to have.
MSN maps has decent aerial photos of my mom's neighborhood