Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Garden Memories

Right when you think winter will never end, God presses the reset button and a sprig of green pokes through barren earth. In perfect timing, spring announces the season of growth and new beginnings. The players seem to burst out on the stage overnight. In the south, they’re already everywhere.
Spring is a time of preparation and planning, anticipation and looking forward, but I always turn nostalgic this time of year. The reason is because my mother was a great gardener. I don’t know why her skill didn’t rub off me. Or why plants still cringe when they see me coming.

Mama certainly taught me everything to make a garden grow. We had a large garden away from the house, large in that it ran an acre or so, planted mostly in corn and peas, beans, okra, tomatoes, all those vegetables that would be frozen or canned. I was even allowed a couple of rows for my popcorn. Did you know it gets hot enough in South Georgia to pop corn on the stalk? I couldn’t find a picture of it, but take my word for it—it does.
The garden patch near the house was reserved for all the salad vegetables; lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, beets, and scallions. I wasn’t too fond of eating those vegetables, so it’s no surprise I balked at working in the garden, especially on Saturday mornings when Bugs Bunny was on.
It wasn't bad enough I missed cartoons, but my mother seemed to make the whole thing harder than it should have been. She choose this spot where Bermuda grass loved to grow, and insisted we dig it up with a hoe, shake it until the dirt and worms fell out, and haul it off to be burned. Mama had a hate thing going with this Bermuda grass.

But she knew what she was doing. Her garden patch had no need for fertilizers or manure. We didn’t have to worry about additives. Yet that was the richest, blackest dirt on the face of the earth, and well aerated by earthworms too. The worms were usually deposited into a tin can for fish bait.

Mama couldn’t stand a blade of grass anywhere in her yard, and she kept the bare paths swept with brooms made of dog fennel. Every other square inch of the yard was filled with flowers, mainly annuals she sowed from seeds. You can’t get those seeds anymore except as heirloom. They’ve been tampered with in attempts to improve them—or keep people from growing their own—until they don’t grow from seed anymore. Pansies, petunias, daises, asters, marigolds, carnations, sweet-william. I can’t remember all the different ones.

Besides all the flowers and dirt paths, flowering trees of dogwood, red-bud, and holly were gathered from the woods and strategically placed around the yard. I Wish I could show you a picture of my mother’s front yard, but all that remains is in my mind.

The first stirrings of spring remind me of that garden. I wish my yards contained such beauty, or that I could grow such vegetables. But I know the hard work that went into them. I never developed a talent for gardening, and by the time I was in fifth-grade, my mother dismissed me from garden chores. Maybe because she was afraid I’d kill more plants than I helped, but I think it was really because she saw the value in studies, reading, and writing. She recognized that the seeds planted in my brain would yield more than those I managed to plant in the ground.

Is anyone out there an avid gardener like my mother? Do you have a garden that rivals yesteryear’s?


  1. Elaine, I so enjoyed your post. I had a garden several years ago but nothing as fine as your mother's. My parents still raise a garden and work at it quite diligently. They are both in their eighties and still use a plow that my granddaddy used to make his garden. I love to see well manicured gardens growing each year.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. Hi Melanie

    We used to drive out into the country to see the remains of old country gardens, but all have disappeared now. So sad. Glad to hear your parents keep theirs going.

  3. I love your beautiful post, Elaine! Gardening seems to be a lost art in some areas. My 9 year old really enjoys gardening and loves learning from my grandparents. As my mother said, they still plant a garden every year!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Britney,

      How nice that your child is interested in gardening. I'm sure those grandparents enjoy it just as much.

  4. This sounds so much like gardens of my great-aunt. It seemed so odd for her to sweep the dirt pathway. Thanks for bringing back good memories.

    1. Patricia,
      We do value grass more these days, don't we? So glad I could share with you.

    2. Your mother's yard was a child's dream. There always seemed to be hidden worlds in every corner of the yard. I remember so fondly of visiting and always finding those tiny pink rose buds with their vines trying to climb wherever Mrs. Olis would let them. It remains in my memory too!

    3. I'd almost forgotten about those beautiful climbing roses. Thanks for reminding me, Dana.