Thief at the garden party


by Kevin Barrett

photographs by Nick Pironio

I asked a friend of mine at the bar recently if he had any travel plans coming up. He’s an adventurous guy who always seems to be going somewhere off the beaten path or just coming back from a colorful sojourn.

He smiled at me. “This is my favorite time of year to be in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. Why would I go anywhere else?”

Did I mention he’s a very keen man, as well?

North Carolina in spring is why we live here. Dogwoods and magnolia trees bloom, blueberry bushes start to fruit, and it’s time to mow the lawn. And mow it again.

It’s also time to tend to the spring garden and prepare for all of the tomatoes and peppers you’re going to eat right out of the backyard. It’s time to plant basil and cilantro. Everyone needs mint, too.

Last year I missed this garden party because of an ill-timed trip to Guatemala at the beginning of their rainy season. My keen friend would have never made that mistake. So this year I’m preparing my crops.

I, like many of you, grow heirloom tomatoes. They are better than anything you buy at the grocery store. You know it, I know it, and my dear dog knows it, too. A few years ago he started stealing tomatoes out of my fruit basket in the kitchen. Then he discovered he had a nearly endless supply of them in his own backyard.

A friend did once tell me, “When you have a garden, you need to grow a little bit extra for the critters.” But Oscar is a 90-pound critter, and he’s a lab, so all he ever wants to do is eat a little bit extra.

So I had to devise a plan to keep my beloved beast away from my beloved tomatoes. I didn’t want to fence them off or use chicken wire, since I like to sit by the garden and have a drink (that’s where this is going eventually) after working in the yard. It’s fulfilling to look at your garden in full bloom and sip on a cocktail.

So, the plan was to outsmart him, which doesn’t usually go well. I knew he liked tomatoes, apples, carrots, and avocado, and I knew he didn’t like green beans, ice cubes, or mint. (He’s been around since the Bush administration, and he’s getting a little weird in his old age.)

I decided to try to fend him off with lots of mint. I planted peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, and some mint that was supposedly from Cuba, for mojitos, all around the perimeter of the garden. I would tell you that mint grows itself, but it actually just completely takes over if you’re not adamant about fighting back. You have been warned.

I was left with too much mint, a dog that still ate my tomatoes, and a deep thirst from all of the work. The solution was clear: Make drinks out of all that mint.

This drink can be batched and served from a pitcher for your friends. You will find it more refreshing than a mojito after tending the garden or mowing the lawn.


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