The Grateful Gardener
By Sandy Wieber
If you’ve come to this column looking for another rendering of a gardener’s cranky complaints, I’m afraid I may disappoint you. Oh, I was cranky last month…looking out over the spent blooms, the knocked down perennials, the tangle of weeds that had died in the frost (take that, you beasts!) I made my annual declaration that this year was not worth it, and next year I would turn all my gardens back into lawn. (Or, as my husband likes to threaten, “concrete stained grass-green”).
But that was then. And this is Thanksgiving.
Who isn’t sentimental this time of year? My garden is put to bed, and I can finally relax. Without the threat of bugs and black spot and all the things I have to do to keep them at bay, I think about how lucky I am. And I am lucky–even if my impatiens didn’t become lush bushel-sized mounds of color this year (okay, there’s one cranky complaints for you anxious readers. Clearly, I’m not quite over that disappointment yet).
But for the most part, I really am grateful. This is the time of year when you think about family, and I come from a long long line of gardeners. I may not be as good as they were (in that way, I’m a great example against the evolution of the species), but I’m trying to walk in their mud-stained footsteps (and trying to walk more upright, thank you very much).
Like my Granny, Rosa Guinther. My parents bought our farm from her. Granny and her second husband Paul lived on the other side of our house, so I had a lot of interaction with them while I was growing up.
Granny loved pink flowers—billowy phlox and heavy-headed peonies. Paul even started growing sweet peas because they were pink. He gave my some for my sixth birthday, and laughed when I said they were “stinky”. I may not grow sweet peas today, but I have a big soft spot in my heart for peonies—and I have about seven different varieties (at least one of which I pinched from one of Granny’s original beds).
My other grandmother, Leah Deturck, was quite a gardener as well. She preferred a Victorian garden—whole flowerbeds of dahlias as big as china plates, their bobbing heads propped up with bamboo stakes. She loved cannas, too, another Victorian showoff.
I don’t have the green thumb that my great-grandmother Deturck had…nor do I have her patience for digging out bulbs and rhizomes and storing them in the basement year after year. Her garden was just beautiful, but a little too time intensive for me. “People had more time back then,” my mother sometimes tells me, giving me an excuse for my less-than-stellar results. But my great grandmother had 13 children. I’m not thinking that “more time” was something she was aware of, except in a wishing kind of way.
I try not to dwell on the fact that both of my great-grandmothers were better gardeners than me. After all, by the time I met them, they had 80 years of experience. If I am still gardening then, I hope I’ve learned a thing or two. And I hope I’m just as grateful then as I am right now.
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls bloom.” –Marcel Proust