Cultivating Place: 'The Chinese Kitchen Garden' With Wendy Kiang-Spray

Mar 30, 2017

Gardenways and "The Chinese Kitchen Garden" - a conversation with gardener and author, Wendy Kiang-Spray

I am fairly accustomed to hearing the phrases “folk ways” and “food ways” and even ‘music ways” to describe the history, traditions, and myths associated with these subject areas in distinct locations or cultures. Only recently have I come to think of the history and traditions one brings to the garden or gardening as our “garden ways” – and the garden ways of other people are endlessly fascinating to me as one lens by which we see the world/one lens by which others can learn something of importance about us and who we are.

When my children were small, we had a fabulous story book entitled: “The Ugly Vegetables”, written by author Grace Lin, whose parents were Taiwanese immigrants to the United States. In this children’s books she shares the universal concept of what makes us different and what brings us together through a young girl’s uncomfortable recognition that the garden her Chinese mother was growing was very different from the gardens being grown by their neighbors. The girl keeps asking her mother why she is growing such ugly and unusual vegetables when everyone else is growing beautiful flowers and so called “normal vegetables”.  Her mother keeps saying – just wait. Ultimately, her mother’s long season vegetables ripen and are harvested and her mother makes the most delicious aromatic soup – the scent of which wafts throughout the neighborhood and brings the neighbors running, bearing gifts of flowers. The whole neighborhood then shares a meal of the amazing soup. The experience of reading this book with my children was transformative for me – and was hands down the first time I was consciously aware of the fact that we all have different garden ways and these are full of rich information. And, as a side effect, I’ve wanted to grow Chinese vegetables ever since. And make something that brings people together.

When I saw an announcement about the early 2017 publication of writer, gardener Wendy Kiang-Spray’s first book “The Chinese Kitchen Garden” (2017, Timber Press) I knew I wanted to talk to her. Wendy joins Cultivating Place this week from the studios of NPR in Washington DC.