Only child gets gardening gene from mom

Dad standing under Mom's rose archway

I’m convinced I got the gardening bug from my mom – with a smidgeon from my dad and his proprietary outlook on lawns and trees. In spring, summer and fall I live for my garden so you can imagine how I feel in the bleak days of winter when everything is dead outside. Sure new-fallen snow is beautiful but it is nothing compared to the colours of flowers, the fragrance of herbs and the yummy vegetables and fruit in my garden. Right now I am above head level in black raspberries and I don’t even mind going out in the heat (well, early morning and late evenings) and picking them. I give away some of the extra raspberries  to my friends and also freeze some raspberries. My neighbour’s six-year old son has developed a fascination for picking berries and it is not uncommon for him and his friends to bang on my front door and ask, “Can we pick some raspberries?”

It all started when I was little -maybe around three and a half when I remember Mom and Dad digging in the garden in spring and I would watch…

On this April day in 1952 Mom and Dad are halfway through their spring ritual of turning the soil from fence to hedge. I cart out my small shovel and dig in, but I make only small dents compared to Mom and Dad’s efforts. Mostly I remember hovering, watching and listening.

“Albert,” Mom says. “Be careful around the strawberries.”

She thrusts her shovel, no nonsense-style into the soft sand. Her black oxfords sink deep and the once-white socks are splattered with sand. She hides her body under a flowered housedress. Having a baby at 41 and the indignities and intricacies of middle age has remodelled her into Fraulein Frump.

You couldn’t blame her for taking precautions when digging. The boys behind us, including Tom in my class who defended me against The Bully, stole the strawberries and raspberries, or so mother said. She never caught them in the act, but the remains not present the day after added up to more than a hungry posse of black birds or sparrows. And years later, when Tom and I reconnected, he admitted to the deed.

Then the planting begins. My clumsy digits bury the tiny carrot seed in the row of sand, which my mother carefully indents using the rake handle. When she hauls out the bean seed packet, she has her instructions ready.

“This is the top of the bean.” She pats it with her index finger. “See, it’s curved in. That’s where the bean plant will sprout. You plant that part up or the bean will grow down.”

And so, I swallow my impatience and become the obedient daughter – please the parent and the world will bow to you. I have a lot to learn but I suppose my young age and the results of my gardening actions could excuse my naïve expectations in life. The beans usually grew…up, up towards the heavens, if you believe in fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

I guess it was Mom’s farm background that pre-disposed her to growing a lot of vegetables and fruit. And yes, she had many raspberry bushes but hers were red raspberries and she just knew how, when and what to prune. Me, I know when (fall) and sort of know what (the dead branches, obviously) but whatever I do or don’t do the bushes seem to increase the next spring –  not complaining – I am grateful. I don’t know where Mom got the original raspberry bushes, but mine grew wild in my Aurora backyard and when I moved back to Toronto, a friend helped me dig up three plants and transplant them to my Toronto backyard. The strange thing is these bushes grew to below my knees in the Aurora backyard but here, well as I said above, they are giants. What do I expect living on a street with the word “garden” in it? I have truly come to my calling, my avocation.

My Mom didn’t just grow edible plants. Sometimes I think her rosebushes were her babies.

The rosebushes spread everywhere – front, back and if Mom could nurture roses through asphalt, the driveway would no doubt harbour a rosebush. Below the veranda, in the corner by the driveway, Mom has installed a trellis. When I sprawl in the green Muskoka chair on the veranda, my nose inhales the sweet aroma of the yellow roses poking through the trellis.

In the ‘50s, we could hold a wedding in our backyard at 139 – the deep red roses climb and entwine around the white archway attached to the white picket fence beside the driveway. As I yank open the gate, the fragrance overwhelms me. But my kid eyes absorb the colour, and as I skip through the backyard, I count the rosebushes winding through trellises against the back of the house, the side of our garage and the neighbour’s garage. My mother’s roses grow high and their scent permeates my nose, skin and right into the core of my heart and soul. She constantly frets over a hybrid tea whose blossoms exemplify the species name, although I don’t recall the actual name of the rose, just Mom standing by the fence and fingering the rose-coloured petals.

“The leaves have too much blackspot,” she says. “And this rose is finished.” Snip, snip go her clippers.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

My garden is a mixture of perennials, including roses, vegetables and herbs and like my mother’s garden, my garden is all over. But I mix. One of my tomato plants grows next to a rosebush in front; I have lamb’s ears, yarrow and black-eyed Susan in with my vegetables. Although I have a herb garden with lavender, parsley, sage, oregano, echinacea, basil, blue flax. chives and rosemary, I also have chives and sage growing in my flower bed at the bottom of my veranda and basil, rosemary and leaf lettuce growing in a big pot on my veranda just outside my front door. This makes it quick pickings for dinner garnishes, especially on rainy days.

I think I’ve expanded this gardening gene I inherited from Mom. But the fruits of this inheritance may have stopped with me. My son has no interest in gardening. That is left to his girlfriend – she has the potted plants on their balcony, including a nasturtium and pepper plant I gave her.

As for Dad’s proprietary gardening, let’s just say he kept the lawn cut and watered and gave my girlfriends and I “hell” when we yanked the leaves off the trees for “food” for our dolls. At least we didn’t steal the strawberries.

Pink Yarrow and Red Rose by curb



only child writes


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Filed under Gardening, Hereditary, Only child, Only child memoir, Parenting

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