In the Garden:
New England
December, 2006
Regional Report

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Camellias will, surprisingly, bloom even in New England but they need to spend the winter indoors.

Ghosts of Gardens Past

Our gardens not only hold the seeds for future gardens, they also can link us to past gardens and gardeners who were important to us. I loved trotting after my grandmother in her gardens and eating freshly picked peas and blackberries. And smelling her roses. Thoughts of her gardens will always be tied to the memory of the day her nearby swimming pool sprang a leak and all the water swept through the blackberry patch on its way into the backyard of a neighbor. Very exciting to us kids, not to the neighbors.

When I first started planting a garden of my own I was living in Colorado, where rainfall was scant and insects were only a minor annoyance. I dug elaborate trenches to carry the water around my islands of plants to make the most of every drop. It was no sweat to keep up with the weeds in my little plot because they weren't getting much water either, and somehow I found time to water and otherwise tend the garden in between college classes and working in the university greenhouse and growing carnations for a research project. The Rocky Mountains were a constant backdrop, and I was fascinated by the beauty of nature's gardens amidst the rocks. The dry climate and lack of a zealous insect population also allowed us to backpack on weekends without tents, just throwing sleeping bags on the ground. That western climate was for me, I thought.

I was in for a shock when I first started gardening in Iowa. The heat and humidity was stifling. A seed accidentally dropped on the ground would grow into a monster plant seemingly overnight. I overshot my capacity by planting an enormous garden on a farm where some friends lived. It was to be a shared garden, they promised to help. But things didn't go as planned. They lost interest, I lost the upper hand with the weeds and insects, and ended up having to hire help just so I didn't lose everything. What the weeds didn't overtake, the insects devoured. The garden bombed. So did camping trips sans tent until I learned to appreciate what all that moisture had to offer. One Memorial Day weekend I went canoe camping on a beautiful river for three days. It rained the entire time. Tents and sleeping bags never dried out, all the couples were fighting. But it was a warm rain and the mist turned the river into an otherworldly place. The exuberance of the climate won me over.

These and other gardens in other places have given me much more than edibles and bouquets. I remember the view from each garden, who else was around at the time, the adventures that are linked in my mind. And elements of my current garden tie me to past places and people. My rock addiction began in the Rockies; I grow snapdragons because my mother loved them; I keep trying to replicate those Jersey tomatoes from my grandmother's garden; my camellia plants were started by my father years ago from seeds he collected from my other grandparents' yard in North Carolina (yes, they winter inside here). The life in a garden doesn't really end with the moving or passing of the gardener any more than it does with the passing of the seasons. We just need to tune in to the legacy.


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