Origins of a Gardener

My first experiences with gardening were with my Grandpa Dwight. He had a wonderful, large garden in his backyard. When you first came out the back door of his house, past the screen door, there was a covered patio with various chairs, and my favorite, the porch swing. I remember often swinging there alone, all stretched out, or sitting with siblings or cousins, and rocking for what seemed like hours. The swing smelled of dust and outdoors, musty, and made me feel comfortable and at ease. I think Grandma Betty recovered the swing with new fabric a few times over the years. Sometimes the fabric was soft and cozy, some variations were cool and crisp and even crunchy. I loved all the versions once I got used to them.
Grandpa Dwight as a young farm boy.
Grandpa Dwight as a young farm boy.

Past the patio was an expanse of lawn and off to one side, an island shaped flower bed that my grandmother tended. I paid little heed to the lawn, or even the flower bed. My attention was always drawn by the edible garden.

Grandpa always laid his garden in rows, beginning at the edge of the lawn and extending back to the chain link fence at the back of the property, beyond which was a grass and weed alley of sorts, a no man’s land for 15 feet or so before the neighboring property began. At the back corner of the property was a two story shed which was so worn and rickey that I always wondered when it would come crashing down. For that reason, I avoided entering it when possible. The one time I remember entering it, it was dim, with shards of light streaming in from gaps in the weathered wood planks that made the walls. Cobwebs crisscrossed the corners and edges, dust particles floated in the streams of light. Old rusty tools and junk were stacked and tucked everywhere. I believe that shed eventually did come down, perhaps torn down by man or the wind.

Grandpa built his own irrigation system for the garden rows with 5 gallon buckets. I never cared to know the details of his system as a child, but I surely wish to know them now. We only entered his garden when invited, and we were only invited to help, usually with the harvest. He kept Grandmother busy during the growing season with all manner of fruits and vegetables to preserve. We often found her canning in the kitchen. My favorites from her canned goods were canned cherries, which you pitted as you ate, and her grape juice concentrate. Both stained everything they came in contact with, both a luscious treat to my young taste-buds.

Past the straight rows of vegetables, in front of the rickety shed, were the fruit trees and bushes. I have particular memories of the raspberry and blackberry bushes which we were invited to help harvest often. Grandpa fashioned harvesting buckets for us out of plastic gallon milk jugs with the top cut off, a rope strung through the handle to tie on like a belt. Each harvest helper received one of these buckets. Although we were pricked often by thorns, the only stains I remember on our hands were from the juice of berries. I believe I, and all the other children who helped, ate as many berries as they placed in the harvest buckets. It was wonderful, to skinny down the rows, trying not to get your clothes caught on thorns, reaching in as far as you dare for the ripe berry just out of easy reach. I felt at ease there, found great pleasure and beauty in the joy of the harvest.
It seemed a natural extension of my experiences in my grandfather’s garden for me to want to have my own garden. My mother often had us try to grow a large vegetable garden at home, too. We always put in a great effort in spring, tilling a large rectangle in the back of the yard, then forming rows, planting many, many packets of seeds. But, then summer wore on, and the garden was forgotten, until we would notice it again in fall when it was full of 6 foot tall weeds.
By junior high and high school, I preferred to dabble in gardening independently, focusing on a strawberry patch along the back wall of our house, and planting carnations near the front door.
During college and the first 4 years of married life, I had little opportunity for gardening. I sincerely missed that connection with the earth and nature though. I think that longing showed in many ways. My husband found it amusing that I would pull apart beautiful garden photo calendars and paste the photos all over our apartment, especially in the kitchen area, where the lack of a window seemed so wrong to me. I spent much of the day outside in good weather, playing in the sand or taking walks with my small children, observing the changes of the plants and flowers around the college campus and near our apartment. I did try to grow flowers in a small planter box outside our apartment door, alas, it did not receive any direct sunlight, and was a complete failure.
Once we bought our first home, I could not wait to start my very own garden!

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