The first house that my parents bought had a sizeable backyard planted with six to eight pine trees. The trees were mature and covered the sloped yard with about a foot of crunchy long brown pine needles. One summer, I decided to ‘clean up’ the needles to see what was underneath. I filled up bags and bags of pine needles and didn’t seem to make much of a dent. It was a 1950s home that we bought in the late 1970s. There may have been a good decade’s worth of pine needles to gather. It was tedious but I discovered that I like goofing off in the yard. It’s kind of mindless but also meditative and rewarding. There’s patience and surprise in gardening. You can say that I got the gardening bug (I wasn’t aware of fighting bugs at that age!).
I was curious about plants and over the years, my dad began showing me how to grow stuff. Among his various careers in Vietnam and America, he owned a landscaping business. He often discussed his projects as well as collaborations with Riuchi, a Japanese man who’d worked in Kyoto’s imperial gardens. I had no aspiration to position rocks for zen gardens or perfectly trim bonsai, but I did like to experiment with plants. You never know what will grow, is my dad’s motto.
That explains the lemongrass in the jar at the top of this post. My lemongrass plants died last year and I’m trying to start new ones. Long ago, my father said that if you want a lemongrass bush, put a fresh stalk into water and let it root. The ones I’m currently working on are from our local natural foods market so we’ll see what happens. I’ve bought lemongrass grown from seed and they were lackluster for some reason.