When my mother’s first cousin spread a wilted sheaf of papers across her thrift-store coffee table and started pointing out the names and dates of our shared family tree, I didn’t know what to believe. I had always taken great pride in the name of Frazier, although it was my mother’s name and not my own. But I’d lived on Frazier Road and attended all the family reunions as often as they’d roll around, so who’s to say I wasn’t every bit as Frazier as those who’d first read the name scrolled across their birth certificates?
But my pride in my mother’s people had always come from what, to me, had been the most obvious: their tireless industry. Their silent dedication to a simple way of life that ended not too far from where it began, somewhere along the border of their hundred-acre farm in Southeastern Kentucky. Not, that was to say, from a distant and improbable relation to some Frézier fellow who’d helped domesticate the strawberry for the delight of his French king some centuries back. It seemed about as ludicrous as my father’s claim to the Golden Delicious apple—also known as the Mullins seed, founded on the Mullins family farm in West Virginia. We as a genealogical adjunct had every right to give ourselves a perfunctory pat on the back, or so my father joked, for what little blood our two families might once have shared.
My mother’s claim was given only slightly more credence by the series of terraces she’d built into the hillside below our house before filling each level with the green and tender leaves of her infinite strawberry beds. As for my father, aside from a ten-year battle with a cantankerous mimosa tree that often gave as good as it got, his horticultural exploits were few and far between.
Whatever the truth may be, I am certain that each tale bears the weight of just enough fiction to land it squarely within the realm of family folklore. And while it might be every inch the truth we claim it to be each time we tell it, it’s just as likely to be a well-trimmed lie—a state of things that lends the telling a little more glamour than it might otherwise merit. Not unlike many of the greenhouse annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs we like to keep stocked on the cart, dressing the tables, or filling the wide windowsills of the BC Farm Store.
Take our fragrant little rosemary bushes, for example: Rosmarinus officinalis. The “dew of the sea,” as it translates from Latin, is an herb native to the Mediterranean coast and, according to the Herb Society of America, was believed by ancient Greeks to improve one’s memory, a phenomenon that led to its use in the head garlands worn by young scholars. In later years, this translated into a symbol of remembrance, filling the hands of the recently deceased as they were mourned by their loved ones. Thyme, another Farm Store favorite, is noted by the Society as a symbol of a warriorlike bravery. Soldiers would go so far as to bathe in the herb’s tea and sew its slender sprigs into the seams of their battle scarves. It was also believed to endow superstitious villagers with “the sight,” or the ability to see into the realm of the fairies.
Thanks to Janet Meyer and her crew of student workers down at the BC Greenhouses, we also stock a small orchard of fruit-bearing perennials around which mystery abounds. According to Dan Koeppel of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, it was just as likely a banana as an apple that Eve plucked from the Tree of Good and Evil at the dawn of original sin. A couple religions over, BBC’s Mike Shanahan speaks at length in “The Tree That Shaped Human History” about the great spiritual import of the Ficus religiosa, or fig tree, under which Buddha once sat while reaching enlightenment.
Annuals, too, enjoy a spot of lore as colorful as the petals they bud but once in their lives. The Tears of Job that we have curling their leaves to the sky can produce small, tear-shaped seeds that calls to mind the biblical story of God’s long-suffering subject. Its seeds can be collected and used as beads for jewelry that will continue to change color as the they dry and age—first purple, then red, then white. The flowering annual known as Jacob’s Ladder, too, takes on a biblical bent as its long green stalks reach several feet into the air with its thin leaves and violet blossoms creating what appears to be a sort of stairway to heaven.
From front-lawn fillers to fruit-bearing trees, the students and staff members of the BC Greenhouses and Farm Store work hard to keep our great community stocked with all manner of seasonal greenery. Whether you like to choose your foliage with deference to its mythical past or its curbside appeal, you are sure to find a potted prize worthy of boxing up and taking home!
by Shannon Mullins