COLLEGE PLACE — If you’ve driven down Southeast 12th Street in the summertime, you’ve likely noticed it on the south side of the road: A garden patch boasting rows of cornstalks and tall onion stems, vibrant vines studded with plump tomatoes, and leafy green bushes bristling with beans.
The garden is owned and cultivated by Gilbert and Shirley Manuel, who share its annual abundance with others. They’ve grown gardens here since 1960 — “since we built the house,” Shirley said.
Over the years, their gardens have always been in the same place — on the east side of the house, so they get plenty of sun in the morning.
The Manuels’ garden is their hobby. “It’s something I like to do. It’s something I’ve always done. I enjoy being outside,” Gilbert said.
You have to do something for a hobby, Gilbert said. As he matured, he said, he didn’t stick with golf and fishing, but he did continue to garden.
“I had three bad habits; I kept one.” You have to have at least one bad habit, he said.
The son of a local Italian truck gardener, he has been gardening since he was a youngster.
“I grew up in the onion patch,” he said. “I worked with my dad, Ray Manuel. ... I guess it was just instilled in my blood from way back.”
During World War II, “to get out of the onion field, I joined the Navy,” he said. He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946.
“I’ve always been involved with (gardening). I started with flowers, but you can’t eat flowers,” he said. Nonetheless, the Manuels have a large hydrangea garden on the north side of their home and flowers and large trees along their sloping backyard.
“Everything he plants, he grows,” Shirley said.
“I have the most success with tomatoes. To me they are easy to grow,” Gilbert said.
Most of the tomatoes are volunteers, which he transplants when necessary, not wanting to waste a plant.
“He goes to Mass and brings home holy water and puts it on the tomatoes,” Shirley joked.
“Every year I think, ‘This is the last year,’” Gilbert said. But then the volunteer plants come up — and he finds himself with a garden again.
“My corn is pretty good, and of course, onions. You can’t kill ‘em,” he said.
They’ve also grown garlic, cucumbers, peppers, string beans, cantaloupe, cabbage and eggplant. “And weeds. Don’t forget weeds,” he said. But he’s never grown zucchini.
“The weather has been so crazy this year,” he said. At first, it looked like a normal spring growing season, then everything froze. Then it got hot — and just stayed hot for so long. “It made the corn come on all at once,” Gilbert said.
“You have to keep water on it. It’s expensive here but it’s part of my hobby,” he said.
Is it relaxing? “Well, yes and no,” he said.
“Sometimes it makes me frustrated. When I need to get something done. It rains and rains and rains. Or it’s too hot to do anything. It seems like the weather is always against you.”
But he perseveres, and every spring is a new beginning.
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.