In this episode of Mother Earth News and Friends, we chat with the members of the Intrepid Ivy Association, a group of five sorority sisters, now all retirees, who inspire each other to garden, share food, and laugh, a lot.
The Intrepid Ivy Association (the Association) is not an official gardening organization. Rather we are a group of five retired Sorority sisters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama who not only enjoy gardening but also enjoy the camaraderie gardening has engendered among us. We were already close because of mutual interests around our membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. But over the past 18 months, we have bonded even further over tomatoes, squash, grapes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, okra, brussel sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, kale, collards, cabbage, strawberries, blackberries, rosemary, sage, cilantro, lavender, and mint.
In retirement, we regularly and routinely participate in church, civic, and service activities, and three of us work and consult part-time. But we abruptly found ourselves with too much time on our hands when COVID-19 halted so much of our otherwise busy lifestyles. At different times during 2020, gardening gradually became a serendipitous, then a serious and disciplined hobby that we could do simultaneously, yet separately, during the pandemic. While Beverly, the Originator, has been an avid gardener for years, the rest of us began by “sticking a seedling in a pot” to see if it would sprout into something edible. And 18 months later, gardening has grown into a shared, disciplined hobby as illustrated in our gardening stories.
Growing up in rural south Georgia, gardening flowers and vegetables was a normal part of life. While my Mother’s Azaleas, Marigolds, Zinnias, Chrysanthemums, and other flowers were beautiful, I had a far greater appreciation for edibles. However, there came a time when the odious tasks of canning and freezing vegetables had me saying, “I don’t care if I ever see another fresh from the garden vegetable.” Fast forward to 2008 when I began working in another city and needed to purchase a work home. My decision to purchase a particular home was, maybe not solely, but largely made based on the fact that the previous owner had rows of collard greens growing in the backyard. Each year I would plant, and the highlight of my day was coming home from work, toiling in the soil, admiring the new growth, and doing battle with weeds and mosquitos! Once I retired, I convinced a friend who lives in the rural area near Tuscaloosa to allow me to “sharecrop” on her land.
With increased yields and the desire not to waste produce, I began canning pepper jelly and pickled okra! Never would I have thought this would be so enjoyable (and they make great gifts). I began infecting others with my enthusiasm for home grown vegetables and touting the physical, psychological, spiritual, and nutritional rewards of partnering with God and nature to produce peppers, tomatoes, okra, squash, etc. from seeds or very small plants. Absolutely amazing! I recall Joyce saying once that she was “impressed but not inspired” by my gardening; then along came COVID-19, and she was all in, exceeding expectations and growing beautiful, vibrant tomatoes, cucumbers, collards, kale, and peppers. But the certainty of her commitment was when she introduced us to Malik, Guardian of the Garden.
As Beverly explained, I admired her garden but was not at all motivated to begin one myself. However, as the pandemic weeks and months passed, I became more restless. Then Brittney, another one of our Sorority sisters who also gardens, asked me if I wanted some seedlings as she had bought way too many while visiting a favorite local Tuscaloosa nursery at the onset of the pandemic. I said to myself, “What the heck,” I might as well try to grow something. Now, I am enthusiastically All In.
The timing was perfect because, while I am a relatively healthy 55-year old, I also struggle to control high blood pressure and high “bad” cholesterol numbers. Routine exercise is my salvation, but red wine and fatty foods are occasional nemeses. So, adding homegrown vegetables to my diet has helped me tremendously in maintaining a healthy weight and normal numbers. Furthermore, “tending to my garden” is a relaxing way for me to manage life stressors, create mental balance, and use my time productively; I can, at times, spend too much time watching mindless Television. I relish the responsibilities inherent in bringing to fruition a crunchy cucumber or delicious tomato.
I am The Guardian of the Grapes and Peppers. Why? Well, my sisters decided that my yard was perfect for the grape arbor, and Beverly needed more peppers for pepper jelly. I have tried gardening sporadically in the past. Critters got to my plants, so I was discouraged. I too had the experiences of shucking, canning, and preparing fresh vegetables as a child with my Grandmother. I never thought that I would be Farmer Angela in this life. The Association gives me the accountability to keep tending my babies even when I don’t want to. So far, the tomatoes have been my most successful. Malik’s cousin, Scowly, has kept the birds away.
My squash had beautiful blooms, but no veggies ever showed up. My mystery plants of broccoli and cabbage are still holding but sparse. I learn new techniques each season and one day, I may be as good as Beverly. And, all of us are excited about our small vineyard in my backyard. We’ll update readers on that special project in 2022.
I am not a Farmer, at least that is what I proclaimed initially. I grew up with a Mother who loved her flowers. Our front porch was covered with blooming plants. Making sure that the plants were watered was a tedious job in summer and then moving the plants inside in winter was too much. As an adult, I tried to grow plants, but they always died. I knew then that gardening was not for me. And then came COVID-19. My sisters in the Association were all in, but I knew my history and insisted that I am not a Farmer. Beverly and Joyce brought me an aloe plant and told me that I couldn't kill it. They said, “Give it a try.” To my amazement, the aloe plant survived winter, 2020. I repotted it in spring 2021, and it continued to shine. I was content. When a pepper plant was mysteriously left on my carport in spring 2021, I assumed the Association believed I was ready to take care of peppers, especially since my husband David loves jalapeno peppers. Its care became very important to me. As it grew taller, my belief grew stronger that I too could garden. I now have four pepper plants and two tomato plants. One recent afternoon, I panicked because my pepper plants were drooping. So, I immediately alerted the Association. That day had been especially hot, and the Association concluded that the plants simply needed more water. I now catch rainwater and post pictures of my harvest. I am a Farmer.
My apprehension about gardening was much more pronounced than Joyce’s and Donna’s, thus my title as The Reluctant Gardener. Last year as the pandemic months rolled by, I grew tired of seeing the beautiful pictures of harvested vegetables my sisters were posting in the Association group texts. Gradually the irritation became motivation, and I convinced myself to try growing something. Like Beverly and Angela, I grew up with a Mother who canned fresh vegetables, but I never took up that hobby as an adult. Even though my retirement gardening story is short, I am so proud of my pepper, tomato, squash, and sweet potato plants, and I worry about them like they are my children. I sometimes overwater them or fail to water them sufficiently, but they are forgiving, and Beverly and Joyce conduct routine “health and wellness checks.” I have come to enjoy the lighthearted Association photo-posting competition, and I couldn’t believe the level of pride I experienced when I gave away to my neighbors my first batch of peppers. What an incredible feeling!
Beyond the sheer enjoyment of watching our crops grow are the many moments of laughter and levity we share. The Association group texts are sometimes inane conversations that others would simply not appreciate. We support each other; we joke with each other; and we grow together spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. We help each other as illustrated in this Association text dialogue.
Gardening as a shared disciplined hobby is an activity we highly recommend to other retirees for a plethora of reasons, 10 of which we share here.
The recipe below is shared by Dr. Beverly Bell-Shambley, the Intrepid Ivy Association Originator. Enjoy!
Our Podcast Team: Carla Tilghman and Jessica Mitchell
Music for this episode is "Latche Swing" by Rythme Gitan.
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The Mother Earth News and Friends Podcasts are a production of Ogden Publications.
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