Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Please Disregard the Dirt Under my Nails

I've started to look toward corraling my various musings and essays into one place (i.e. this blog), and ran across this one from 2009 that I thought might be worth sharing...

Disregard the Dirt Under my Nails

Adventures of a novice gardener

Gardening is not a spectator sport - you can't help but to be swept up in it. Being around it can breed an interest, and an experimental plant or two can take you tumbling headfirst into a lifetime passion. My mother gardened, and I eventually succumbed to the point that my annual birthday gift to myself is a full day off work at my "payin' job" to play in the yard.

Mom is a real natural... plants tend to simply bend to her will, which is admittedly quite focused in the garden. And why wouldn't they... she certainly intimidated me into fairly good behavior most of the time. Roses in particular seem to want to perform at their very best for her, which is a feeling to which I can also relate. Now my four year old daughter Sophie trots around the yard with me, tinkering here and there, murmuring words of support to "her" plants and petting the lambs' ear like an obedient pet each time she encounters it (I do the same thing each time I pass it, with almost the same level of enthusiasm). I'm glad to see that her affliction seems to have been rooted far earlier than my own. Gardening with a child is a great delight, and helps me feel that if I succeed at nothing else as a parent, I am at least positively affecting her view of the world.

Both my grandmothers tried their hands at plant tending, although the Depression and many hard-working years may have prevented a full immersion. I suspect it was with their generation that the idea of gardening as hobby rather than necessity became more prominent for Arkansans. My Grandmother Lay cajoled rambling roses in startling hues, allowed periwinkle, the offspring of which is now in my yard, to surround an ancient tree and grew all manner of things in giant cast iron pots that resembled witches' cauldrons. Grandfather Lay encouraged a muscadine grape vine outside their bedroom window in Mena, probably a volunteer, and I was elated this past growing season to find one growing outside my own bedroom, since I'd always secretly coveted his since discovering it in my teenage years. Another happy coincidence, incidentally, is that my daughter and I can now stroll to the southeast corner of our yard for the closest view of the train headed through downtown Rogers; all my growing up years Grandpa would stand, with or without us, at his own southeast corner watching the trains amble past.

Grandmother Mallett was a slightly more rash gardener, like myself, rarely paying much mind to the minutia of planting guidelines and happily puttering around her yard in Texarkana, where an ancient tree was also a mainstay. I'm happy that a giant canopy tree now dominates my landscape as well... it's the little nods to our past that keep memories from escaping. Grandmother introduced me to chives and wild mint, and I loved to pick and nibble them, thinking to myself that I was like a native living from the land with only a few modern amenities such as peanut butter sandwiches. She had a makeshift greenhouse that amazed me, and birds and squirrels enjoyed the many sanctuaries she created throughout her yard. Our favorite gardening story about Grandmother Mallett is her year of planting all the bulbs upside down (they voraciously worked around the error), and her good humor as she laughed at her own mistake. Her irises now grace my yard - legacy plants need not be ancient or unique to conjure special connections to people and places in our lives.

I'm proud that I'm raising another gardener... my methods may lack expertise and sophistication, but I enjoy every moment my hands are plunged into the dirt. I don't know if my yard will ever all be "done," but I certainly hope not. I wouldn't have my gardening any way but by trial and failure. I know I'm succeeding when Sophie makes such comments as this one at the grocery store during the doldrums of December, when I'm dreaming of the things I'll plant come first hint of spring: "Mommy, let's buy these little red tomatoes to eat since ours still aren’t growing." Amen, little one.

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