I was privileged to grow up surrounded by beautiful English style gardens that my mother created. Very inconspicuously, she cultivated the love of growing plants in me and my sisters. It was the same love cultivated in her by her grandfather, as she followed him around in his gardens. She subtly gave us the tools, space and confidence we needed to nurture tiny seeds into thriving plants.
Our family composted long before it was trendy. We did this because our mother grew up composting and was taught it is vital to give back to the soil. Burying vegetable parings was my favorite Saturday morning chore. It meant taking the compost bucket, filled with egg shells and veggie trimmings down to the garden, getting the shovel from the barn, digging a trench and then depositing the contents for future withdrawals as fresh vegetables next year.
We had a large yard, bigger than most in the subdivision. Ours was the old farm house around which the neighborhood grew. A dilapidated horse barn and small fenced paddock was sandwiched by our neighbor’s yards. We shared the shadow of the former farm with raccoons, mice, possums, snakes, squirrels, toads, fox, ground hogs and an occasional skunk. Our bird feeders were very popular with resident as well as migrating song birds. Owls and hawks would visit. Mature Maple, Mulberry and Black Cherry trees kept the squirrels and birds busy. White Pines lined the driveway; a tiny rare Smoketree was dwarfed by the majestic Hemlock that clearly towered over all trees in the development. As children, the three of us couldn’t lock hands and complete the circle around the massive trunk. We did try and marveled at the “biggest tree in the world.” Our yard was a refuge for all that wanted to remain isolated from the loudness of encroaching suburbia. Today, it would be called a green space.
Our love for growing plants was further cultivated by spending summers on the family farm in Kentucky. A working tobacco farm since the 1820s, the land generously supported many generations of our family and still does. The same land that my mother, my grandmother, my great grandfather, my great uncle and aunt… etc. all learned from and was taught the love of growing and nurturing seeds. The farm gently hinted at the thread that connected us to it, just a slight, almost unnoticeable tug. I didn’t understand it at the time. All I knew was that farm in Kentucky was my favorite place to be. We all felt it, my sisters and me.
But we grew up and made our lives, always remembering fondly the farm in Kentucky. Going back to visit any chance we could. We all grow flowers, vegetables and trees regardless of where we live. Without knowing it, we have been weaving that same thread into a fine ribbon that ties us to our own gardens.
I am fortunate to have a career that puts me in touch with nature every day. But still, I felt that slight tug, a one way whisper ever so gently demanding a response. When I bought my first house I instinctively started a very small vegetable garden. As my first snap peas peeked towards the sun, it all came dancing back. The wonder, the smell of spring, the warmth of the earth and the pure joy of knowing I am once again weaving the threads that connect me to the land. The simple act of preparing the soil made me feel that my new house was now my home.
Growing food for my family, harvesting beautiful fresh lettuce, peas and spinach at the start of spring is the thread that connects me to my passed relatives and the farm. I feel it honors their lives. We all have that same connection. Most don’t have to go back too far in their family to find grandparents, uncles and aunts or even parents that were tied to their land. The threads are in all of us. The gentle whisper is there if we listen for it.