Back in the day, gardening was a survival technique. Families grew the food they needed on their own property. They used what they could, shared with the neighbors, and spent hours preserving it for the leaner days ahead. Trips into town were rare, and rarely needed.
Times have changed. We have become more mobile, and more dependent on others to provide our food. For many, the joy of planting something and watching it grow has remained. Hopefully, we have retained enough knowledge in our DNA that we could revert to raising what is needed to support ourselves.
In our family, we learned from the best. James’ parents were serious gardeners. At times, they tended as much as half an acre, full of every variety of vegetable you can imagine. Their freezer occupied nearly half of the kitchen, and it was an ever present source of tasty, healthy goodness. The whole family learned well at their knees, and on their knees, tilling, planting, weeding, waiting, and eventually harvesting.
As the physical stress of maintaining the garden became too much, Paw-paw transitioned to using five gallon buckets, which could be tended to from a movable chair. After a move to a new location with very rocky soil, a good friend brought a thoughtful gift, a load of rich soil dumped in the front yard. By this time in his life, gardening was more than survival; it was a source of comfort and security.
My own parents were not as dedicated to growing food at home. My divorced Mom had very little time for such things, while working to support us. We did have a small patch behind the garage that provided tomatoes and pole beans. I saw this as a treasure hunt, and loved to venture out to see what I could find. My Dad and his wife shared a spot a short distance from their home in a modern sub-division. During our summer-time visits, I was in charge of searching the cucumber patch, and was amazed at the speed with which these little green wonders went from fingerlings to basket fillers.
While raising our own kids here in the Ouachita region, we did dabble at raising veggies from time to time. Our yard in eastern Saline County had a very fertile spot in the back corner, and it supported rows of tomatoes, peppers, Brussels’ sprouts and okra. The kid’s grandparents actually took more pride in this endeavor than we did. I remember at least one occasion when James’ dad was out in the garden, whipping our okra plants into submission. Although it sounds strange, his technique actually worked. After he had removed the extra greenery, the energy of the plant went to producing fruit- the slimy green pods that we loved to add to a pot of gumbo, or fry up as a crispy treat.
Our daughter and her daddy also tended a smaller spot once. All tomatoes, as I recall, She didn’t go for any of that other stuff.
At the same house, our neighbor had a row of varied plants next to the chain link fence that separated our yards. I didn’t mind that his vines crept up the fence, because our agreement was that anything that managed to poke through the holes and grow on our side belonged to us. Another chance to reap unexpected treasures.
These days, my gardening is purely decorative. We have some very nice flower beds with a variety of seasonal and perennial plants. I retained the love for fresh veggies in the summer, but my craving can be met with a trip to the farmer’s market on the courthouse square. Also, of course, it helps that I am married to the produce man in our local grocery.
In the youngest generation, all is not lost. Our grand-daughter dearly loves planting flowers, and the oldest grandson holds the record for the greenest thumb of all. His success story started one evening when he was eating an apple at our house, in the dead of winter. Having learned that apples grow on trees which sprout from seeds, he wanted to plant a tree of his own. We found a spot in my flower bed, and planted six seeds. Weeks later, three tiny plants sprouted, and one actually grew into a tree that was taller than the young dreamer’s grandpa! Because it was approaching the eaves of our house, we had to move the sapling out into the yard, where it failed to thrive. Partly, I am sure because of the bright summer sun, but mostly because the possessor of the pixie dust lived several hundred miles away. It was a lesson for all of us; that faith has as much to do with growing big and strong as science ever could.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor this year, and don’t forget to teach your kids and grands about the wonders of God’s creation. The joys will return to you ten-fold.