I Garden to Remain Connected to the Soil of My Childhood

This week, I have been ruminating over the reasons that I feel compelled to work like a slave in my garden.  I often say that if someone told me that I had to garden–just for pay, I’d pass.  If money were the only motivation, the labor of gardening is far too intense.  Surely, there are other benefits.  I have written a series of blog postings examining those benefits:

  1.  There are Health Benefits to Gardening.  For me, the only anecdote for the winter doldrums is spring and getting back outside and back to work in my garden.  https://cottagegardenliving.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/the-health-benefits-of-gardening/August42015adj
  2. Through gardening, I create beautiful places that are conducive to a Zen-like peace of mind.  In short, a product of my gardening effort has produced a calming place that is no doubt good for my health.
  3. Yet, more beneficial than the spots that I create  is the act of creating those beautiful spots–it is the doing of–the process of gardening–that benefits me more. ZenGarden Quote2

4.  I Garden Because Gardening is a Link to My Childhood

Although the above 3 reasons are sound, I believe that the fourth is my main impetus for gardening.

I garden to try to stay connected to my roots.  In writing this, I wonder what the percentage is of people who move away from home and become totally different beings. Along the way, I did that; and as I have become older, I have realized that I may have moved too far–not too far away from a spot on the map–but too far away from myself. All of my children have moved far away from their homes now, and just this week, I had an occasion to talk to my youngest child [he is a young 25], who had just experienced the death of one of his best high school friends. As I spoke to my son about his grief, I found myself saying that death is reality’s knocking on our doors–assuring us that living has a time limit. We will not always have an opportunity to rekindle old friendships–to reconnect. I told my son that he should do what I have not done–he should learn from my mistakes–he should stay as connected as possible to who he once was. In denying our pasts, we begin to lose chunks of ourselves.

Joan Didion said: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” – Joan Didion

My wonderful, German grandmother was an avid gardener.  I have read that this is true of many Germanic people.  I am fortunate that I lived on the street behind my grandmother.  Many things about my grandmother–and especially her garden–impacted my life.

I grew up in a tiny, rural community that was surrounded by cotton farms.  It is no exaggeration to say that I grew up on the salt of the earth.  My grandparents owned a string of houses on Main Street–immediately across from the town’s school.  When I was in school, I walked past my grandparent’s house twice a day.  It always seemed that my grandmother was sitting and crocheting in the light of the living room window.  As I look back, she may have been sitting there, just to see me pass–or she may have just been sitting there for the light.  I don’t know now, but I do know that her sitting at that window became a beacon for me–an icon–a sort of Whistler’s Mother.

In a way, the memory of my grandmother’s sitting is deceiving.  In reality, my grandmother did not sit much at all.  She spent most of her time outside, working in her massive garden.

My grandparents not only owned their own home, they also owned the string of houses next to them.  Keep in mind that this was a rural community, and my grandparent’s houses had immense lots.  The people who rented had nice yards, but my grandmother gardened the backs of all of the yards that my grandparents owned, and on the absolute back of the land, my grandmother planted a glorious stand of hollyhocks.

There was an alley behind the hollyhocks and my street was behind the hollyhocks.  As a young child, at least once a day, I used to walk through the alley, into the towering stand of hollyhocks, and through my grandmother’s flower garden–and finally, to her house.  As soon as I passed beneath the sheltering arms of the hollyhocks, I felt safe and protected. It was a magnificent pilgrimage, and even today as I retrace those steps, my spirit is lifted.

Certainly, as I labor to create my own garden now, my main ambition must be that of holding on to my grandmother’s garden, my grandmother, and my own childhood.  Actually, there could be no better reason at all.

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