Sunday, February 24, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/12/12)


          The subjunctive mood, sadly, has pretty well passed out of general usage which leaves us with only the indicative and imperative.  The subjunctive is probably too sophisticated for our modern times, enamored, as we are, with commands, dogmas, ideologies, and certainties as though we know the truth.  Ironically, if we claim to know the truth, we’re trapped in our certitudes and shielded from ever learning anything new.  According to my high school Plain English Handbook, “The subjunctive mood expresses doubt or wish or condition contrary to fact” as in “I wish I were going home for Christmas.” 


          The indicative mood is for statements and questions as in “I’m going home for Christmas.”  While the indicative is used more for descriptions, the imperative is used for commands which assume knowledge of some hidden truth.


Nowadays, one seldom hears the subjunctive, seldom a doubt.  Almost all of the politicians speak in imperatives, especially the ones whose nostrums have failed in the past.  Even horticulturalists speak in the imperative, promising success if their instructions are executed.  In addition, the apocalyptic tenor of the times begets the imperatives of doom, delivered in stringent tones with corded necks. 


          Bureaucrats, academicians, religious authoritarians favor the imperative.  Considering themselves experts, they’re incapable of expressing doubt or uncertainty; however, most veteran gardeners favor the subjunctive.  I’ll choose a veteran over an expert any day.  Also, psychologically the imperative is often used to cloak uncertainty.  Gardening is subjunctive.  No one is ever exactly sure what’s going to happen.


          Tomatoes are subjunctive.  Akin to children, tomatoes seldom turn out as expected, sometimes for the better and sometimes “not so.”  An Episcopal priest once offered a toast at a wine tasting:  “Wine makes all men handsome, all women beautiful, and even makes one’s children promising.”


A tomato’s adolescence is an iffy time along about late June or July.  A beautiful Siberian of ours, loaded with fruit, came down with white flies, and spray it as I would early in the day before sunrise, they never went away.  We had to destroy it, lest it infect the rest of our tomatoes which were the tastiest we’d ever grown, at least according to meine Űberfrau who said that they were almost as good as her father’s.


          As with all failures, I grieved at first.  Since my hope had been dashed, I felt either guilty or vindictive.  Last spring I turned 85, and we had a big party in Redondo Beach, arranged by my daughter who has turned out well although not as expected.  As a result, I didn’t start from seeds, and this allowed me to blame the nursery where I bought the plant.  Of course, I could’ve still started with seeds even though the time had passed, but I’m slothful.  Whether guilty or vindictive, I was in a subjunctive mood, wistful and doubting, mulling over “what could’ve been if I had only.”


          However, doubt implies faith.  The natural process didn’t collapse with the collapse of my Siberian.  Faith isn’t the same thing as the certainty implied in the imperative.  Faith isn’t knowledge, but rather an assumption that the natural process will be repeated, so faith implies hope, as Saint Paul pointed out, and charity as well.  I’ll plant the seeds in faith with hope they’ll sprout, and I’ll surely raise them with charity.


In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Banquo said to the three witches, “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, then speak to me.”  They did, and what a tragedy it was.  Certainty isn’t always a good thing.


Of course, we can’t learn anything worthwhile unless we first fail.  Success tutors the arrogant.  Next spring, I’ll start my tomatoes from seed, and I’ll only plant the seeds of tomatoes that have done well before and a couple new ones recommended by a veteran like Jim Mast.  Most of all, I’ll be vigilant, wary of the hazards of my tomatoes’ adolescence, those subjunctive cankers, blights, spots, molds, rots, wilts, and white flies.  If you don’t handle grief well, tomatoes may not be your cup of tea.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera.  Smith emails at, and blogs at








Monday, February 11, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/10/2013)


          Small children often think that the bigger the box the better the gift.  I know I did, and my mother frequently cautioned me that many times the best things come in small packages, such as diamond rings. She gave me an amethyst ring when I graduated from high school and a gold pen and pencil set when I graduated from college, all in small packages.  A widow with three boys to rear during the Great Depression, she didn’t have much disposable money for luxuries so those gifts were dear.  I still use fountain pen with all of its memories much to the befuddlement of my students at The Literacy Center who know only that dreary device, the ball point pen.


          Another small package is the French bean, haricot Comtesse de Chambord (Phaseolus vulgaris.)  It’s so small that commercial growers won’t bother with it.  Since it can’t be found in commercial markets, we have to grow it ourselves, and like that gold pen and pencil set, it’s a treasure.  In an era of industrial agriculture which is too big to bother with small things, I’ve found once again that small is best.


          Originally called an Hungarian rice bean, it was baptized Comtesse de Chambord which sounds a lot better than “Hungarian rice bean.”  As the song writer Larry Siegel penned:  “Everything sounds better in French,” especially when it’s gustatory or culinary.  The longer I grow vegetables, the less inclined I am to grow vegetables easily purchased at the supermarket.  If I had the skill, knowledge, and means to build a car from the ground up, I sure wouldn’t build a Ford or a Chevy, much less a Mercedes Benz.  I’d want something unique.  Why grow the old familiar as long as you can grow a unique and rare heirloom?

          First, the Comtesse de Chambord bean is on the endangered list.  The seeds are hard to find, but there’s a source in British Columbia, the Two Wings Farm (  Since they’re so rare and endangered, it is probably wise to save the seeds, especially since the folks at Two Wings Farm aren’t in the best of health.  The beans themselves can be harvested in about 100 days.  In addition to being rare, they’re very old, first being mentioned about 1880.


They’re easy to grow, especially in containers, and they’re bountiful.  A semi-vining bush bean, they require only a modest wire cage, growing no more that three feet at the most.  The pod is only about three inches long and can be eaten much like a sugar snap, fresh and sweet, right off the vine, or as with other green bean pods, blanched or sautéed.  The beans themselves are white and about ¼ in long.  They don’t have to be soaked overnight, requiring soaking for only about fifteen minutes.  The taste is sweet, and they do well in salads as well as stews, soups, and cassoulets.


          The bean is named after the Comtesse de Chambord, the Archduchess Maria-Theresa de Modena, the wife and then widow of Le Comte de Chambord, at one time a pretender to the French throne.  Maria-Theresa was his second cousin and second choice, his first being her younger and more beautiful sister; however, although she was reported to be less attractive, Maria-Theresa was wealthier.  The Comte de Chambord rose is named for him and is recommended by David Austin.  A Portland rose it dates from about 1870.


          The Comtesse de Chambord does well in a well-composted soil, the seeds planted about 6 inches apart, an inch deep, and about 2 feet apart if planted in rows.  I’ve found them to do very well in containers in concentric circles about a foot apart.  Also, they can be planted outside in May surrounded by Walls o’ Water which not only provide the seeds with a circular green house but also the seedlings with protection from ground squirrels.  Once our plants began to mature, our resident ground squirrel, Elvis, lost interest.


          The phrase “less is more” first coined by Robert Browning in his poem “Andrea del Sarto” fits our diminutive haricot Comtesse de Chambord when small is best.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera.  Smith may be emailed at and blogs at