Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Story of Me -- A Gardener

I remember gardens wherever I lived. Both my parents loved to garden; Mom with her rhododendrons and flowers, Dad with his fruits and vegetable gardens. My siblings and I spent every chance we could outside digging in the dirt, climbing trees and exploring.

My dad’s side of the family were all farmers. Immigrating from Holland and  settling in North Dakota then coming to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to put down roots. And what a time we had on all those farms. Milking cows, picking cherries and blackberries, moving irrigation pipes, weeding, digging for arrowheads in the fields.  Trying to keep up with the older cousins. It was all there to be explored and discovered. In one Aunts kitchen, there was always some kind of baby animal sleeping behind the wood cook stove. An orphaned lamb or goat that needed extra attention. Oh we ran wild those wonderful summer days.

When I was quite young we moved from Oregon to the wilds of Vancouver Island. There Dad hauled truckloads of river rock from the streams to make a terraced vegetable garden on the hillside that was our backyard. Everyone said don’t bother trying to grow in the rocky soil, but he did. He added mountains of compost and his own mix of soil until it was a fertile  ground. And boy did his vegetables grow. After that they asked him to write a gardening column for the local newspaper.
 My beloved Nana, who we spent every summer with back in Oregon, had the biggest most beautiful yard I had ever seen. The back part held the nut and fruit trees, blueberries and every imaginable vegetable. Plus Papa’s mysterious brick and glass-paned greenhouse where he hybridized and grew his award- winning chrysanthemums. The gardens nearer the house were more fussy, with every kind of flower and flowering shrub neatly ringed with aromatic boxwood. A formal rose garden led to a vine-covered gazebo where I spent many a day reading or dreaming. Orderly brick paths wound there way all around these gardens and we spent many an hour hoeing the moss from the mortar keeping them in place. I first learned of the beauty of a hydrangea bloom and the smell of boxwood from that garden; memories that still sustain me. I still think about that house and those gardens.
In later years after losing Mom, Dad spent all his time in the garden. His yard was meticulous. You almost didn’t want to walk on the lawn for fear of leaving footprints. He grew many beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs, intermingled with his favorite vegetables and berries. His was the first garden where I saw tomatoes and squash growing next to roses and lilies.

I learned from these people as I grew up amongst them. But it didn’t come to me right away. It wasn’t until I was married and  had bought our first home that it began creeping out. First with houseplants. I read every book on the subject and became familiar with the plants needs and even their Latin names. Then I ventured out into the yard and never looked back. At first, it was all about living off the land. Gardening with a purpose. Raising fresh food and being self-sufficient. The Mother Earth News magazine became my Bible. And after seeing the beauty and fragrance of herbs and vegetables and  fruit trees with their fleeting blooms, I wanted more. That’s when I found flowers. And I found that they too could serve a purpose. They nourished my soul.
Mine was a much wilder and eclectic garden than the well-manicured and formal gardens I was used to. I couldn’t afford to buy plants, so I begged and borrowed from friends and neighbors. A bit of this a bit of that. And I learned what worked where. When I ran out of room in the beds, I looked for ways to grow upwards, enlisting my husband to help  build arbors, trellises and tuteurs. I added whimsy and fun. I began hauling ‘trash’ home to reconfigure as ‘garden art‘. I planted in whatever container would hold enough soil for the roots. I added sound and sparkle with wind chimes and gazing globes; mirrors and candles. We built a pond and invited the wildlife in.

Now I’m hoping that I gave to my children and grandchildren the same joy and wonder that I found back in my family’s gardens.