Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gardens as connections to our past

The article I write for the bi-monthly Orange Plaza Review was just published; if you don't get a chance to check out the had copy, you can read it below!

Gardens as Connections to Our Past

Gardens provide us with countless offerings: flowers, fruits and vegetables, beauty, a place to escape, a healthy environment. But some of what we gain from the things we grow are much more subtle. A few months ago, I wrote about how gardens provide us with inspiration that goes far beyond the soil and sun and seeds; this season, as the ground awakens and spring brings new life, I am thinking about how gardens provide us with a link to our past.

The inspiration for this article is two fold: the gardens I’ve created for myself, for family, for customers and with students have all been on my mind, as well as the importance how those places reflect our heritage, our ancestors, and the like. Then, quite recently, at Country Roads, where our garden shop is located, we lost a long time friend and customer in a very tragic, sudden way. Our reaction, after the initial shock and sadness, was to come up with some sort of way we could remember her in our store. “Doing something in the garden” seemed like the only natural choice.

I like that gardens can be place of remembrance, in happy, health ways. Early spring of each year, I always plant bachelor buttons, the blue, cheery cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) that my grandmother, and namesake of our nursery, Johnnye Merle, had growing in her garden. I remember her telling me about how she’d always have to remind the gardeners that came to cut the lawn underneath her giant Magnolia tree to leave the little patch of dirt where their seeds lay hidden alone; she loved that you could “mistreat ‘em, ignore ‘em, even forget to water ‘em”, but year after year, those seeds would germinate, come to life with a shower of bright blue color. So I too now plant them, and even though she has since past away, I feel connected to her from these seeds that stay the same, that give me the same plant she herself had grown some fifty years before and enjoyed. And in turn, I hope to share that story, that legacy, with the next generations of our family. On her birthday this year, I made a small donation to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in her memory, doing a small part to keep the legacy of wildflowers of my grandmother’s Texas youth alive. I could think of no better way to remember her than with living flowers for generations to come!

When I am in the garden, in many ways, I am also reflecting the many lessons and tips picked up from so many people over the years, appreciating all that I have been taught as I care for my plants. When I plant heirloom plants and seeds, I am also connecting to the past; there is a huge ‘movement’ of gardeners that cultivate and save heirloom plants for this very reason. It is quite remarkable to think that you are growing the same plant that someone grew hundreds of years ago, eating a vegetable that has not been modified or changed since that time! These plants, handed down from generation to generation, are a direct link to our past, and are also important to our environment: they are usually naturally resistant to many pests and problems and weather extremes, provide a diversity that is critical to maintaining genetic diversity, and are generally always organic, grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In the after school program I run (, we often create gardens with our students with this idea in mind, growing plants that relate to individual student’s unique heritage and ancestry, providing them with a ‘living history’ of where they come from, and what people have done for generations to live, while also teaching important lessons about the environment, botany, and science.

We will be remembering our friend Faith, who we lost this month, in our gardens at Country Roads this spring. Creating something that is living, vibrant, full of color and that contributes to the environment around it is the best way we can think of to pay tribute to someone who embodied all of those things. Gardens provide us with a unique opportunity to remember, to connect to our past in a meaningful way; every time we get our hands dirty and work with the soil below our feet, we are contributing to our future while also remembering where we came from.


Quick garden tips:

*Heirloom seeds will be in this March at Johnnye Merles! March is a GREAT time to start your seeds.

*For those of you who aren’t into waiting and starting seeds on your own, we’ll also have heirloom veggie plants available, along with all sorts of great annuals and perennials for early spring planting.

*We’ll be celebrating spring this March with a garden party! Visit our website for more information.

*Spring is also a great time to start revamping your garden; if you need some help with design, take advantage of our garden design services!

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