As this article is being written on Mother’s Day, it seems a good time to celebrate the dedication of some garden mother plants. I am noting particularly the artichokes and the fava beans. In early spring, the foliage on the artichokes grows thick and dense and full. The plants form impenetrable shrubs four or five feet high that you cannot see through. The fava stalks, following their own growth pattern, grow thick and tall, often an inch wide and five- or six-feet high.
Now we are in later spring and the plants are producing their offspring – their beans and chokes. A single artichoke plant can have a dozen chokes of various sizes forming with more on the way. A fava stalk might have a dozen beans as thick as your thumb and twice as long. All the energy of the plants is going into this fruiting, this production of the next generation.
The same holds for the snap peas. Just vines and leaves covered the trellis a couple of months ago. Now the peas hang everywhere. And as the peas keep coming, and the beans and the artichokes, the mother plants begin to wither. The lower artichoke leaves droop to the ground, while naked-looking stalks hold up the chokes. The plants are sparse, spindly. The fava stems careen sideways and begin to bend and break. More and more, the pea plants sprawl along the top of the trellis, looking rightly tired after their exertion.
Each year in the garden we get to witness the entire life cycle and the commitment of growing things to propagating into the future. Left to themselves, the pea and bean pods would break open and drop the seeds (peas and beans) to the ground. The plants would eventually droop to the ground and provide nourishment, as they break down, for the new plants growing from the seeds. Instead, of course, we eat most of these seeds, and in gratitude we add the leaves and stems to the compost, where they will be distributed throughout the garden to nourish all that we plant.
The artichokes are perennials. Their fruit – the chokes – left to themselves become beautiful thistles and reseed through dispersal. Before they have that chance we eat them, so they don’t create a new crop. But come late winter, we will again see leaves emerging from the dry, woody, dead-looking stems and the mother plants will fill out, swell, and get ready once again to raise up offspring and offer them to the spring, to the earth, and, thankfully, to us.