My daily walk to work takes me past a rarity here in Georgia’s most densely populated city—an open lot in a residential neighborhood. There’s a house there, but it sits almost invisible way back off the street, and the expanse before it could reasonably accommodate another house entirely. It won’t surprise me at all when the lot is split and construction starts.
But for now, the lot is the province of the wild and green, though someone at some point had a vegetable garden there. I know this because every spring about this time, a few stalks of asparagus shoot up. It’s nestled amidst a thick, ancient border of monkey grass crammed up against the sidewalk, but there it is, a persistent perennial that has thrived despite what I am guessing is decades of neglect. I like to think of it not as Euell Gibbons’s “wild asparagus,” but more of a feral asparagus—once domesticated, now a resourceful, clever survivor.
Some of the gardening smarty-pants say asparagus can’t really be grown in Georgia. It’s too hot here, too humid. The plants will be too slender, the harvest season too short. But my friend the feral asparagus and I, we know better. For years I have waited to see that perfectly formed stalk shoot up. And for years I have been tempted to harvest it when I know it has reached its tender, crisp perfection and stand there on the sidewalk and eat it raw. But I’m more curious than hungry. I want to see what it will do—how tall it will grow, how much it will fern out, whether the red berries will form then later turn yellow, whether anyone else will notice that that’s an asparagus, for crying out loud.
The feral asparagus inspired me, so I decided last year to try to grow some for myself. It made sense to me that one should plant the crowns in the fall, to give them a cool-season chance to muster up their energy in the earth before the first big show in April. So last September, I did my level best to find some. I googled, emailed, called around, but there were no crowns to be had in the autumn. I even received a stern email lecture from one source about how no asparagus crown grower in his or her right mind would ever sell in the fall. So I waited, chastened, until February, when the seed catalogs arrived, and I ordered myself a batch of twenty-five Jersey Knights.
They arrived in March, looking like a tangle of squid that had been beached for a few days. I got seventeen of them into the ground (the rest I gave away to neighbors) in a couple of choice locations with just enough sun and loamy, well-drained soil. I dosed them with heaps of good compost and long, regular drinks of water.
The first skinny leg poked through about ten days later. It is so hard to resist harvest, but asparagus needs time. A few years of it, in fact. So once again, I find myself waiting and watching the asparagus grow.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to pay my daily respects to my feral friend, with gratitude for the lesson in what can be done.