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The strawberry of Dave’s dreams

Oregon’s climate is ideal for this fruit – except for the climate in my garden.

Victoria Arocho/AP/File
Young strawberry pickers in North Andover, Mass.

We grow really good strawberries in Oregon. That’s fortunate, because no one wants the shipped ones; you might as well eat photographs of strawberries. Strawberries begin to pout and go starchy as soon as they’re picked, and the best way to enjoy them is to lip them directly off the plant, like a Labrador retriever. 

Our climate and soil are conducive to growing the very best, and everybody does. Hoods! Quinaults! You just drop a few bare-root plants in the ground and yell “Hi-yo!” and they gallop across the bed. You’ll need to take the weed wacker to the edges a few times a season to keep the luscious goo off your driveway. 

All of this is good news for my husband, Dave, who loudly adores strawberries. Naturally, I can’t grow strawberries. I can’t grow even one strawberry.

There’s a long bed thumping with raspberries; there are blueberry bushes groaning under the load. And somehow, Dave thinks, none of these is as delicious as the particular strawberry I cannot grow. I don’t even think he cares that much. It’s just that he can’t have it. Suddenly, a good homegrown strawberry is the most important thing in the world, and completely fictional. It is the very unicorn of fruit. It’s trickle-down economics.

Everywhere we walk in Portland, waves of strawberries crash onto the sidewalks like nature’s own reproach. Dave pauses for a long look, then turns to me with the eyes of an orphaned basset hound. It is important to him that I feel proper remorse. I may accomplish worthy things all year, but none of it matters in strawberry season.

I have tried. In fact, I have had strawberry plants in the ground for 30 years. Occasionally a small, hard, green fruit emerges, looks around, and dies friendless. The plants are supposed to propagate themselves by means of runners, and mine do, too. My runners are very long. They’re trying to get to the neighbor’s yard. Most people grow the June-bearing varieties, but I also grow the ever-bearing ones, so that I can fail to have strawberries all season long.

I have a successful garden, otherwise. People assume I know what I’m doing, but that’s only because I pull out the dead stuff. The strawberry plants never die. They wouldn’t be able to pro­ject guilt and shame that way.

There isn’t much to the growing of strawberries, according to the experts. You plant them in the spring, using a ruler to assure their personal space, which allows them to imagine life will be peaceful and kind. That first year, should they deign to put forth flowers, you remove them. This is supposed to have a disciplinary effect and urge them to eventual greatness. The second year you harvest the imaginary fruit. Then you mow them down so they don’t get any ideas. The third year you pull them out because they’re exhausted.

I don’t know why, because they never do anything.

And that’s that. You have to start over then, in a whole new area, because strawberries are easily terrified and your previous patch was the scene of so much grief. The pattern continues until you run out of space where you haven’t previously grown strawberries, and then you have to move. 

This year I thought I might experiment with soil amendments. The soil pH is key, I’m told. You can have all the minerals and nutrients in the world, but if your soil is not the correct pH, the little princesses won’t pay any attention to them. I could offer them some lime. Or I could go to the store and buy a nice pint basket of Hoods.

Store’s only a few blocks away.

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