Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is a Creole Garden?

A creole garden. Image courtesy of:

Today a group of elderly women dropped by to hand me an invitation for a religious meeting in the nearby village. I got some "oohhs" and "ahhhs" as they stepped closer to see  and identify the abundance of flowers, herbs and vegetables growing in my yard. They asked me whether I use them or they're just for decoration. I told them I regularly use them for pasta and other tomato-based dishes especially as I have an abundance of tomatoes. Before they left they said my yard is a Creole garden and asked me if I know what they mean. I said yes.

But really, what is a Creole garden? I'm thinking of Southern or Louisiana gardens in the US or the ones in the Caribbean. And I was a bit right only there's more to a Creole garden than that. Quoting from the website Atlas Caribbean:

"The Creole garden is a direct legacy of the period of slavery when the plantation masters allowed the slaves to cultivate for their own family needs in vegetables and root crops. This practice allowed the former to dispense with having to provide all the slaves' food, but also afforded them some freedom of space and the possibility sometimes to amass some savings with the hope of buying one's liberty.

The Creole garden was always located near to the house, often appearing as an inextricable jumbled space, but with an evident coherence in terms of organised cultivation. On small patches ‘root crops' could be grown, like yams (Dioscorea alata) and 'cousse-couche' (Dioscorea trifida), plants originating from the region, and grown along ridge till systems supported by stakes. One also finds dasheen – ‘chou-chine' (the French name) and ‘madera' (the Spanish name) – the former following after the latter during the year. Today green vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, turnips, carrots, and cucumbers) are cultivated together in these small spaces as well as the inevitable red peppers and lemon trees, coconut palms, with a stand of cane and bananas completing the picture.
Depending on the talents of some cultivators, the Creole garden is also a locus for growing medicinal plants, used in traditional Caribbean pharmacopoeia. A plant from the Zingiberaceae or the Ginger family (in local French Antillean vernacular known as “à tous maux”), and the arrowroot (‘toloman' in French, Spanish ‘achira') provide typical examples.
The traveler quickly passing through will see nothing of this rich diversity, with barely the time to separately identify the abundance of plant life."

After careful thought, they're right. I have a creole garden. In a small space near the house, I grow a seemingly inextricable bunch of tomatoes, eggplant, basil, dill, parsley, peppers, lavender, chives, squash, ferns and flowers. But there are also trees: malunggay, calamansi and yellow lemon trees (though they're just about an inch tall and I doubt they saw them).

I just don't know how it will buy me liberty, but I know it will... one day.

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