LYNN — On a little piece of Paradise at the base of the Highlands, string beans hang in two foot-long ribbons from trellises and lotus plants open to embrace a blue summer sky.
Chivy Chum and her husband, Ouk Chrean, surrounded their home with garden plots, planting boxes, neat rows of herbs and plants, lattice frames sprouting melons and a variety of vegetables straddling North American palates and food flavorings from their native Cambodia.
Lynn residents since 1992, the couple come from Battambang, an area near the Thai border where gardening is part of growing up.
“The difference between here and Cambodia is the heat. But 70 degrees and up is great,” Chum said.
Except for a narrow driveway, every inch of yard space around their home is devoted to gardening. String beans dangle in rows from lattice works lining one side of the driveway. Lettuce grows in beds that are seeded in April when the couple start planting.
Frames constructed by Chrean, including one built around a dead cherry tree, provide room for vines to grow green melons. Bitter melons with their rough, knobby skins hang above jasmine flower plants. Taro root grows alongside lemongrass, zucchini and cucumber. Watercress competes for sunlight with corn stalks towering six feet above the garden and bamboo grows in a corner of the yard near a pumpkin patch.
Family friend and Lynn resident Henry Un never tires of walking through the garden and spotting plants he knows are staples of Cambodian cooking. Chrean and Chum grow limes used for pickling and a plant with a name roughly translated as “frog’s legs” is used as a beef garnish.
“Every time I come here I am amazed at what they are growing,” Un said.
Bitter melon ends up in soups and another plant the couple grows is typically pickled and used to flavor grilled fish. There is even a plant mixed with water as a sort of holistic cough medicine and another herb reputed to lower blood sugar.
Although they start planting their winter stock of seeds stored in jars in the spring, Chum and Chrean keep a careful eye on the temperature to prevent plants from dying. Any dip in May below 60 degrees is a signal to bring plantlings indoors.
A water tank draws rain from their home’s gutters helps nourish the plants but Chrean admits “our water bill is still high in the summer.” The couple settled in the Highlands in 2004 and started, “little by little,” said Chum, accumulating their plants.
A little competition underscores the couple’s gardening skills. Chum is the expert in adding color to the garden with a variety of flowers. Chrean keeps a close eye on spices and flavoring herbs they grow and his wife concedes he is a master with string when it comes to rigging bean and melon lattices.
The couple spends almost every sunny day and a few rainy ones outdoors during the summer tending their garden and enjoying a rest break next to the lotus. Tiny plants grow on top of the water surrounding the lotus and keep mosquitos away.
“Every garden should have lotus,” Chum said.
Chum’s and Chrean’s five children don’t share their parents’ green thumbs, but the family garden connects them to their heritage.
“Every morning when I see the garden, I feel like I am back home,” Chrean said.