I’ve been wondering lately how I’ve got to where I am now. At times it seems like life throws random people, events or places at you with no regard to your plans or wishes. But upon closer inspection, I found that those “random” events that “happened to me” more closely resemble an orchestra finding its harmony than a lottery.
This is most apparent when I think about how got into gardening in the first place. At first thought, I began gardening in college my then boyfriend (now husband) and I started a garden in the back yard our the house we rented. We borrowed a tiller, dug up the lawn, and planted squash, beans, kohlrabi, mustard greens, beets, carrots, tomatoes and hot peppers. Occasionally we watered and weeded, but mostly it kind of grew on its own. It was actually one of our better gardens.
Each summer after that, our gardens evolved and grew. I wish I could say they got progressively better, too, but we had bad years and good years in no particular order. One year in was dedicated almost entirely to making sacrifices to the gardening gods and weeds.
In 2007, someone asked me how I got interested in plants and was not satisfied with the “I dunno, it just happened one day in college” answer. Here are the major contributions to my love of plants and gardening.
Grandparents – My maternal grandparents were role models and teachers about gardening. As a child, I would stay with my grandparents in the county during the summers. They had a huge garden, veggies, fruits and flowers. My grandpa would thread cucumber flowers into small-mouthed jars, and after they grew into full-sized cucs in the jar he would show me to my amazement. I was also amazed at the way potatoes grew under ground.
Grandma told me all the names of her annuals, like morning glory, bachelor’s buttons and petunias, and showed me how to collect and save marigold seeds for the next year. My favorite part of the garden was the lying under the aromatic dill and watching monarch caterpillars make their chrysalis. And eating the monster strawberries that they grew. In fact, I ate so many in one summer that I became allergic to them, and couldn’t eat them without breaking out into hives until I was 18 (thank god I grew out oh that one!).
Underneath the two story house (that had four porches, a front, side, back and sun porch) was a dug out cellar. The steps to the house could be lifted up and propped to revel the earth “steps” into the cellar. Down there it was always cool. Jars of pickles and other canned goods lined the small space on handmade shelves. Apples and potatoes were wrapped individually in newspaper and stored in cardboard boxes. I loved going down into the cellar. It was like stepping into the underworld – with lots of food.
Grandma and Grandpa were not farmers themselves, but they were surrounded by crops, as they rented out the adjacent land to farmers. We would go to Threshing Parties (Thrashing, they pronounced it) and look at old farm equipment and displays. There was the various antique farm equipment they had scattered around their property, including horse and human-drawn tillers and potato harvesters. One summer there we visited Grandpa’s friend who was a parsnip farmer. His massive field held lacy, emerald green tops up to your knee of parsnips so sweet and aromatic you could smell them wafting in the air. We pulled some up and Grandma made incredibly delicious parsnip gratin for lunch.
Genes? – I owe a lot of my interests and skills to my father’s side of the family. I didn’t have a lot of contact with my father after my parents split when I was three. When I would see my dad in the summer, he would show me his incredible gardens of vegetable I had never heard of, like endive, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and a structure resembling a dog house that was teaming with shiitake mushrooms.
In the woods, he showed me a species of cactus he discovered (growing in Wisconsin!) and American ginseng he grew and sold. One of my aunts invited me over for lunch and I’ll never forget it. She served me some organic, crunchy granola, healthy type food (looking back it must’ve been something like quinoa, kale and tofu) that I despised at the time but now I love and appreciate (and grow) that sort of food now.
Growing up where I did – The beautiful river town where I grew up, St. Croix Falls, WI was a grand place to have a childhood. It was there that I gained an appreciated for the beauty and bounty of nature. My friends and I would spend summer afternoons roaming the streets and woods hitting up the blackberries, June berries and columbine and finish off with a dip in the river. We played doctor (innocent, I swear) in the woods with lance-like lily leaves to wrap our broken limbs and the collected dew inside to wash our wounds.
While I can’t say that I come from a long line of farmers, I bet my lineage contains people who lived close to the land. Most people (dare I say all?) of the past had to rely on the foods around them (whether gathered or harvested) for survival. Now is an exciting time because people are again electing to grow food of their own. I am excited to continue gardening, hopefully for my whole life!