Most of What You Need to Know, You Can Learn from Gardening

Last week’s spurt of container gardening to pretty up the approach to my yard has got me thinking back to my gardening roots. I have never been much of a flower gardener (aside from the occasional potted plant on my deck), but Mom and Dad loved their vegetable garden, and by extension, it became part of my life, too, albeit briefly.

Our first garden that I can recall was when I was 10 years old and we had just moved from Illinois to Wisconsin. We rented the downstairs of a small, two-story house in the middle of farm country and forest. My parents purchased a pub and diner in a nearby town, but had not yet closed on the house that went with the deal, so tenants we were.

Dad tilled up a small patch of earth so he and Mom could grow tomatoes, green beans, radishes, carrots, corn, and cucumbers that summer. Not to be left out, I insisted on a corner of the plot just for me.

Much like when a child promises to feed and walk the puppy but inevitably slacks, so I did with my garden. I watered it some, and pulled a weed or two, but Dad helped me a lot. He let me think the glory was all mine, though.

I and my niece show off the biggest tomato from our garden at the rental

And Lord, did I make a fuss about having grown the largest tomato! I’m not certain who snapped this photograph, but I directed the shot to be sure the depth of field was so that the tomato looked as big as it could compared to my crouching niece. (The photography bug got me a couple of years prior.) This photo was taken with my Kodak Instamatic 104.

The Kodak Instamatic 104 is one of my treasures

I have fond memories of that summer. Family visited often, which provided me with some company other than the June Bugs and bats. Seriously. My nephews, niece, and I would run through the huge cornfield that began at the edge of our yard and rolled on for acres upon acres. We ran without a care in the world, the sharp leaves slapping our arms and faces.

We went on nature hikes so I could take photos, and on one such outing we happened upon a skunk. This was revelatory as to who could keep their calm and who could not in a hairy situation (a good thing to know about the folks you’re tramping through the forest with in northern Wisconsin, i.e. bear country). Mostly, we generally horsed around like kids do.

The following summer we were in our permanent home, and I guess that sense of ownership took hold of Dad, because he dug up half the county and planted enough seed to feed an army. We added cabbage, zucchini, squash, and peas to the mix, and the corn section gained a whole lot of real estate. If Mom and Dad were home, there was a good chance they were working in the garden.

Sister and Dad planting one corner of the permanent garden
Mom was super excited about those carrots!

My sisters would come help and be sent home with fresh-picked veggies, but as I went from tween to teen, I found other things to occupy my time. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time in the garden with my family, but that is now in the column labeled “lessons learned.”

Was Dad inspecting or eating the tomatoes?

Still, whether they knew it or not, Mom and Dad taught me a few things during those couple of gardening years that hold true for just about any aspect of life:

  • Plant only what you can keep up with
    • Give yourself permission to say no
  • Sunshine, water, and fertilizer are essential
    • Feed your body, mind, and soul
  • If a crop doesn’t grow, plant something else
    • Plan your journey, and be willing to choose another path
  • Pick your bounty before it turns
    • Make your memories now

All these years later, I can’t plant a thing without thinking of Mom and Dad, which is one of the best gifts they have given me. When I dig into the soil from which life originates, plant with the hope and anticipation of a child at Christmas, see the beauty of a bloomed flower, or savor a plump, just-picked tomato, I smile and think of Mom and Dad.

Happy summer, y’all!