In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2005
Regional Report

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Even a 2-year-old enjoys having dad teach her about watering.

Once Upon a Time

They were a young couple with a dream of restoring abandoned land and turning it into a productive farm, but their budget was less than a shoestring. So they figured out all kinds of ways to utilize their limited funds, including raising almost all their food. In fact, the night before their child was born, the wife was planting cabbages. The father couldn't afford to buy flowers for his wife and baby daughter in the hospital, so he dug up a plant from the woods and brought it to them. (Not to worry, the plant was safely returned to the woods and flourished.) By the time the strawberries were ripe, the baby lay in a basket at the end of the row while her mother picked.

Even though there wasn't much money, every day and season was treasured. The family eagerly looked forward to each fruit and vegetable the garden yielded, relishing in the home-grown goodness. The stories of the farm-raised, home-cooked meals the wife prepared for the boys helping put up hay remain legendary to this day. Practically every evening, the father would step out on the front porch at sunset and call for his wife and daughter to come see the beautiful colors while the bobwhite and whippoorwill sang their goodnight songs. Bluebirds swooped from the utility lines, wrens stole scraps of organdy for their nests from the porch where the mother sewed dresses for the little girl, and the robins' return was eagerly awaited every spring.

Spring also brought long walks in the woods for the family as they explored the various havens of the woodland ephemerals. When the wild pink roses bloomed in the fencerow, the father would bring his beloved wife a cluster of them. Autumn meant gathering wild persimmons, walnuts, and hickory nuts while relishing the glorious colors of the leaves and the sound of the geese heading south.

Some years were filled with tragedy, two barns and the house burned, tornadoes ripped through the homestead, but over time, life gradually improved. The wife began teaching school so there was a regular income, and the fields and cattle herd flourished. The neighbor women shared starts of flowers, yielding ever-expanding flower gardens, the father developed a rose garden, and, always, there was a large vegetable garden and the orchard.

Summers were spent tilling, planting, weeding, canning, and freezing. Although the work was long, hot, and hard, laughter was always present, as well as a great deal of pleasure in the food and flowers that graced their little house. Even vacations were spent visiting gardens and nature preserves.

Gardening was part of the warp and woof of life for the little girl who grew up on this farm, in just about every form that gardening takes. Given human nature, this immersion in gardening could have had two effects when she grew up: either she would never want to see a garden again, or the love of gardening would remain with her forever. As it turned out, gardening remains her vocation and avocation. Perhaps it was genetics or fate, but I, for one, think that it was due to the fact that gardening and nature were conveyed as something wondrous. Sure there was effort involved, but pleasure could be taken in simple things, watching crocuses peep through the snow, the first fried squash, the scent of honeysuckle as the fireflies glow.

From this story, lessons can be learned. Thankfully, there is a resurgent interest in farming and gardening, so increased numbers of children will once more experience this lifestyle firsthand. For the many who do not have that chance there are still opportunities, be it at home, in school, and in communities. A suburban yard can yield a wide range of gardening and nature experiences, plus there are state forests and parks and botanical gardens to explore together as a family. Schools and community gardens usually welcome volunteers to help with projects.

Although the wife in this story grew up on a farm, it was an elderly neighbor lady who most inspired her lifelong love of flower gardening. In fact, there are descendants of the flowers shared by that lady over eighty years ago that still grow on the farm in the story. Never doubt the far-reaching effects one person can have. Stores may abound with cute little gardening accessories for kids, there may be shelves of books describing clever ways to entice children to garden, but the real key in gardening with children is a willingness to share your own enthusiasm and joy for gardening and nature.


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