Friday, May 04, 2007

Thoughts About Gardening

Many years ago, in a women's bible study, we were covering the sin of covetousness. For some reason, the leader zero'd in on me and asked if I tended to covet other people's homes. Maybe she asked because my husband and I had half of the other women's husbands' income, but I didn't mind. Thinking about it, I realized I was ecstatic to have a roof over my head. So, my answer was "no, but I tend to envy gardens." To this day, I am amazed at my friends who are able to make things grow around their homes. And keep them growing. I am pretty good with dandelions, but other than that, it is a struggle.

Gardening really doesn't cost all that much, especially if you plant perennials and they all survive. My major expenses are books about gardening. And even then, I still borrow a lot of horticulture books from the local library. Some of my planting experiments work, a few do okay and a lot totally flop. The flops usually involve seeds planted too late, bulbs that aren't good quality or a couple of rose bush rootstocks that don't take for some reason. My major problem is that I have been trying to grow "Althea" bushes at least four times and all of them died. So much for the "bloom where you are planted" sentiment.

My father is an awesome gardener, and you would think that some of his talent would have been passed down to me, but no. My home in Washington had a sunny backyard and a shady frontyard. Dad grew ferns as big as small ponies hanging in the front porch and half the backyard was planted in tomatoes and snowpea pods, the other half in roses. Plus, peach and cherry trees. I grew up picking breakfast right in our backyard, as well as dinner. A trumpet vine climbed up the back of the house and a yellow climbing rose up the side. And since Dad made leis for our graduations, huge chrysthanthymums grew on the other side of the fence, next to the street. I asked him to make my wedding bouquet out of flowers from our backyard, and it was beautifully designed with ferns and roses that he grew himself and that I remember picking as a girl, smelling their sweet perfume. He turned the enclosed part of the porch into his own greenhouse/electronics shop. You would see his experiments with African Violet propagation next to his tools and radios that he was taking apart and fixing.

When Dad was finishing electrical engineering in college, I was five and he also grew a garden to feed his growing family. How he did it, studying and maintaining that huge garden, I don't know. But I remember the potatoes, carrots, lettuces and tomatoes, as well as green beans and peas and rhurbarb. There was an older man, retired, who lived across the alleyway that had a huge garden, too. We called him Uncle John, and Mom would send things over to him via my brother and I that she had baked. He would pay us back by telling us stories, our favorite was Peter Rabbit, which he would tell as though Peter was right there with us and he would act out the part of Farmer McGregor. My brother adored Uncle John and would talk a long time, Uncle John patiently answering his questions. He and Dad also would have long talks about growing things. They'd talk about military stuff as well, since Dad was in the Army for a while and he was a WWII vet. He was probably the reason a Hawaiian guy like my dad figured out how to grow stuff in North Dakota. And the reason we didn't starve--money was really tight those days.

Uncle John was the first person I ever knew who died. I remember looking over at his garden and missing not seeing him work. My brother still would go over to check out if he was there or not, knocking on Uncle John's door until his widow would tearfully send him home. He kept the peace among the hordes of kids that ran around the neighborhood, and after he was gone, things started to happen that weren't good. For anyone. Especially me. More about that later. Or maybe not. Before Uncle John died, he called me over to his fence and warn me to stay away from certain kids, but I was confused, since I thought those kids were friends. Uncle John tried to tell me that not everyone who looks like a friend is one. Also, Uncle John was barely able to talk or walk, leaning on his hoe, I was frightened at his change of appearence and focused on that instead of his words. Because I disregarded his warning, it changed my entire life. It's amazing what a difference one person's life made and what it is like when they're not there anymore.

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