The great explorers of yore went out to “discover” more of the world, their entourage and later followers brought back plants. In fact, in many cases, the very reasons they ventured into the unknown were plants: spices or tea, for example.

Chilli in China

Chilli in China: the soil may be different, the plant is recognizable

People migrate, they bring seeds for their prized food plants with them, too.

Wherever people live, as long as it’s a place where anything can grow, they are likely to tend to some gardens. Or so, things have traditionally been, and increasingly are again.

The more I’ve traveled and followed my interest in chile peppers and cooking, the more I have been seeing how much gardens and gardening connect not only people and the places they call or make their homes, but also connect people across various places.

Even more so than the cooking, which is an accessible “other,” but oftentimes presents problems when “exotic” and enticing turns into “strange” and maybe even gross, the gardens and their products tend to be universal (and/or known) enough to give a certain level of comfort and familiarity, at the same time at which they are distinct and different enough to be fascinating.

When and where I lived in China, there was the chilli, and I could have been sharing stories about my own growing of the same.

There were tomatoes, perhaps beans or peas. Then again, there was also sesame, which isn’t quite instantly recognizable to the Northern home-gardener.

There were salads, other leafy greens, cabbages which, even if somewhat different when it comes to their exact varieties, are recognizable enough by type.

Pumpkin-like plants might not just have included the pumpkins we know in Europe and the USA, but also the “winter pumpkin”/wax gourd, bitter melon, and similar Western exotics/Chinese staples – but walking past a field with pumpkins and seeing the farmer, flower in hand, playing bee to the plant’s other flowers, was a thoroughly familiar scene.

Didn’t matter much that the farmer, in this case, was Chinese; he could just as well have been anywhere else where anyone grows pumpkins… and it’s an interesting matter to think about.

We have become so alienated from our food, which should be one of the most familiar things. And at the same time, it’s something so good to think about, know of, learn more about, grow and cook, and share stories and seeds.

There’s life in that.

Whether it looks the same as where you come from, or different.

Vegetable Patches - and Lotus Pond

Vegetable patches – and lotus pond for lotus root (and seed) harvests. Not the usual garden/field scene in Europe ;)