In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2008
Regional Report

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My tool bucket has everything a gardener needs, right at her fingertips. My grandfather would be proud.

Older Gardeners Share Old Traditions

I just came back from a shoot for Henry's Home and Garden (note the new name) in Atherton. The home was on a 1-acre lot and had just been totally landscaped. The extensive lawn was surrounded by beautiful curved beds of perennials. Mature trees shaded hydrangeas, gardenias, tibouchina, lamb's ears, and other colorful perennial plants. The home belonged to a large family who liked to entertain, so there was an outdoor barbecue/kitchen set up near the pool and also an outdoor fireplace.

A vegetable garden right outside the back door was tended by a 96-year-old gentleman, a grandfather who lived with the family. This little garden was neat as a pin, and the bounty contained therein was phenomenal. Tomatoes, corn, zucchini, beans, and hedges of basil were among the crops he grew. But the thing that tickled me was the unique and creative tools and techniques this old gentleman came up with to tend his garden.

My grandfather was Italian, and for some reason I thought his handmade tools were unique to that particular region of the world. Obviously not. It must, instead, be a generational trait because today I saw the same bicycle-tire plant ties, milk-jug tool carriers, tin-can planting containers, deep-watering device made by taping a recycled golf club shaft to an old hose fitting, and dead limbs used to support beans.

This 96-year-old fellow was wearing patched pants like my grandfather wore, the same holey hat, and he even wore suspenders in addition to a belt, just like my Papa! He stayed busy in the garden the entire time we were shooting. He shuffled between watering, pounding stakes, and tying up the multitude of tomato plants with strips of bicycle tires that he kept attached to his belt with twist ties.

Rube Goldberg Personified
Because the elderly gentleman had bad shoulders and could not reach the latch on the gate that led out to his workshop, he spent days creating a bicycle tire/tree limb/duct tape/tie wrap mechanism that was strung through an overhanging limb. All he had to do to open the gate was to pull on the rubber thing that was attached to the tree limb, and leverage did the rest. It was quite ingenious and worked very well, once I figured out where the pull lever was located. It would certainly foil any would-be intruders!

He harvested zucchini as large as pumpkins, dragging hoses out, then coiling them up around an inflated beach ball (I don't know the purpose of this and probably should have asked), and shuffling back and forth to his workshop. One thing I didn't quite understand was his watering method. He filled a wheelbarrow with water, rolled it along the path, then tipped to pour water into trenches along the rows of basil and zucchini. Have you ever pushed a wheelbarrow filled with anything? They are heavy and don't balance well unless you have a really firm grip. He wore me out just watching. He was still busy when we picked up our equipment and left.

I loved being in the presence of this caring, multigenerational family and learned a few new tricks for keeping my little garden going. And, if I'm lucky, I'll wear suspenders and a belt when I'm 96 years old and still working in the garden. It must be the official uniform!


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