Her real name is Cameron, but I still sometimes think of her as Machete Woman because of how I met her.
I had just moved into the one-bedroom garden apartment rental I still live in. The fence between my yard and the neighboring one was just calling out for vines: morning glories for a pretty maybe? Or something more useful like grapes or hops? I opted for hops, knowing that they are voracious growers and climbers and could easily cover the fence in a single season.
So I was baffled when weeks passed and the hops vines made no headway on the fence. Every morning I’d come out and they’d be in a sorry little pile on the ground, not at all climbing and twining the way I expected them to. The mystery was solved one morning when I came outside and saw a woman in the neighboring yard carefully untwining my hops vines from the fence. She didn’t notice me. “Don’t like nothing on the fence,” she muttered, “…nothing on the fence.”
Her head was wrapped in a bandana and she was wearing what my grandmother would have called “a kitchen dress,” one of those nondescript floral print gowns that could as easily have been a nightgown. Beside her feet was a shiny, obviously well cared for machete. Machete trumps garden design plans. I moved the hops.
I wish I had a picture of her, but she is camera-shy. I can show you her tomato stakes, made out of old mop handles
and her ties, made out of old nylon stockings.
That machete seems to be her sole gardening tool. I have seen her in a wide-legged stance with the machete raised over her head. Thwack! The machete dives into the ground. Then she jimmies it back and forth. That is how she digs the holes her plants go into.
That first year, she didn’t speak to me much. I didn’t learn her name until a conversation when she asked me if I was going to grow any food. She thinks I’m just some white chick who’s going to put in nothing but flowers, I thought in response to her disapproving expression. When I replied that yes, I was growing food, and pointed out the vegetables and herbs I’d already put in, her face softened. “I’m Cameron,” she said. Weâ€™ve become friends, and each fall she generously shares some of the figs from her fig tree. I give her some of my basil, mint, and other herbs, which she doesnâ€™t grow but shares lots of recipes for. I guess she doesnâ€™t have to grow them since I grow them for her, just like I donâ€™t need to plant a fig tree.
I’ve been here for five years now, and have gone from having an exclusive-access lease on the garden to sharing it with folks in the apartment next to mine (with no notice and no new lease) . The last neighbors had dogs who left “offerings” that their owners regularly neglected to clean up. The dogs also tore up my strawberry bed, so I ended up having to put little fences up around everything, which didn’t look great. On the bright side, they were content to let me do the gardening and grow whatever I wished.
They moved out three weeks ago, and my new garden-sharing neighbors will be moving in any day now (my lease still says I have exclusive access, but whatever.) I haven’t met them yet, so I have my fingers crossed.
I happened to be out in “my” garden at the same time as Cameron was in hers yesterday and explained the situation to her. “I remember before you came, there was nothing in that garden. Whoever moves in, they should be happy that you’ve done something with it.”
Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith
Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules