Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The making of a gardener

I set up a Mr B's Garden Facebook page yesterday and a friend and fellow blogger suggested I should include some information on where I garden and how long I've been doing it and it got me thinking about the origins of my gardening bug.  I guess to really examine it in detail, I have to start some 50 years ago or so. Until the age of nearly nine, I lived in a small town, the last house in town, to be honest, across the street from my grandfather's farm.  Opa grew tomatoes and asparagus and during the summers, we "worked" on the farm, weeding for a quarter a day.  We also spent a lot of time playing in the soybean field behind the house and in the ditches on either side of the gravel road next to the house.

In 1968, we moved from Canada to Tucson, AZ and though we no longer had fields to tend to, the yard still needed to be maintained and all of us were required to help if we wanted our allowance.  By the time I was in 6th grade, my older brother Ralph and I had a thriving yard care business going, taking care of several yards for 75 cents an hour.  I learned about the difference between Bermuda grass and diacondra, how to thin irises, use various hand tools including grass and hedge clippers (I still use hand clippers around delicate plants), when to fertilize and lots of other gardening wisdom that was imparted by our elderly clients.  After awhile, one of the ladies we worked for ran out of places to plant more irises and she suggested we should take them home to our stepmother; thus began the ever proliferating iris beds at our house and my undying love of irises.

 My mother wasn't really into gardens, so we only had the lawn and hedge to take care of, but after she passed away, my father remarried and my stepmother decided we should have a vegetable garden to defray the costs of feeding eight mouths, so we started with a modest plot in the back yard of maybe 200 square feet, all dug and fertilized by hand.  It didn't take long before the garden was doubled and was producing tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, okra (a neighbor mistook it for marijuana and reported us to the cops), greens, sweet corn and others I can't remember.  In winter we had broccoli, brussell sprouts, spinach, squash and Swiss chard (which we found out nobody liked).  By the third year, we decided one or two rows of corn wasn't going to be enough, so we turned half the front yard into a mini corn field, though most people didn't know as it was screened by a large hedge.  It's hard to beat corn put into a boiling pot within minutes of being picked.  In 1976, the family moved to Oklahoma and I stayed behind to finish high school and didn't do any gardening until I got married in 1980.

Our apartment had a small backyard and I got permission to dig up the grass and put in a vegetable garden, where I grow tomatoes, squash and cucumbers for the two years we lived there.  After that it was a succession of apartments without anywhere to garden, until 1984, when we moved to Mesa and my in-laws bought a townhouse for us to live in. I dabbled with various veggies in our small patio, but not with any serious intent, as I had a full-time job, was going to school and raising two kids.  In 1996, we moved into our present home and landscape-wise, it was pretty barren.  For many reasons at different times, there just wasn't any time to do much with the yard, but eventually I began to get out and planted an apple tree, some grapes and started a salsa garden.  Then a change in jobs meant lots of out-of-state travel and not enough time to maintain a garden and everything but the apple succumbed to neglect.  I have a new job now and only travel occasionally, so I've been slowly expanding the gardens to include flowers, more fruit trees and veggies. As noted in a previous post, the vegetable gardens will be expanding a lot this year, as nothing beats fresh picked, organically grown veggies.

Looking back, I owe my passion for gardening to my grandfather, my stepmother and several generous elderly ladies who encouraged me and gave me a gift that time has not diminished and to which I always return, no matter how long the absence.  If you have young ones in your life, whether they be children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or just the kids next door, try to spend some time with them in the garden so that you can hand down the gift of gardening to the next generation, for being good stewards of the land begins with a small plot, not a giant field.

1 comment:

  1. This is what is so interesting to me about gardening,'s actually the story of the gardener. You are quite the inspiring storyteller. The whole education does start with a small plot, hard work sometimes but, oh, so satisfying.

    I very much enjoyed reading about all the family and friends who influenced you!

    Each of my girls had their own small garden and both now are grown and both are getting more and more interested as they have time to garden their own plots.

    To pass on the love of gardening to another has got to get you into heaven.