As the another year rolls around, I've been thinking about why I garden. There are a lot of good reasons - I like being outside, experimenting with plants and putting them together. But the real truth isn't reasonable. I garden because I have to.
Whether it's genetic or learned, it's all because of my grandmother. The smells and feels of her garden are deeply etched into my memory bank.
Granny and I didn't get off to a great start. When I was around seven, she sent me a packet of seeds that I grew and tended faithfully all summer. Being a kid, I had no idea what they were, and it didn't occur to me to ask. One night, my mother served a heaping scoop of yellow squash onto my dinner plate. It made me want to throw up. "You have to eat this, she said, you grew it." I felt so betrayed. How could my favorite grandmother have sent me seeds for something I hated? When I was older, she laughed and told me she thought they'd be easy for me to grow.
She was a significant mentor. Her backyard garden set the stage for exquisite summer adventures. It was enclosed on all sides by curvaceous flower beds, an impenetrable grove of evergreens, several flowering trees and a bunch of fragrant shrubs. In this private world, my little sister and I romped around naked and played in our wading pool on hot days.
There were plenty of places to hide among the leggy shrubs and nodding daylilies. As we got older, we'd venture into the far reaches of the garden to a grove of hemlocks. In this cool dark spot, we'd spend hours making little houses from twigs,feathers and cones. When our cousins visited, we built huts from bamboo mats and camped out.
Our mother would never have let us climb the gnarled apple trees to pick fruit for applesauce, but at Granny's we could do just about anything that struck our fancy. There were only two rules - you couldn't whine or watch TV.
I loved to help feed the birds. Granny kept birdseed in an enormous Chinese urn that stood majestically in what was known as the map room - my Grandfathers domain. It was so tall that I had to stand on a chair to grab the long handled copper scoop to ladle the seeds into my bucket. I followed her around on morning rounds to fill the feeders. We always left some for the squirrels and raccoons in a hollowed out log.
I don't have a clear recollection of what plants she grew, but everything in her garden delighted my senses - the feel of wet grass tickling my toes, the sounds of cooing morning doves and buzzing bees. The earthy smells of damp soil and the sweet scent of phlox can take me right back there.
Her garden practices reflected the love and respect she had for nature. Nurtured by regular doses of compost, her plants exuded health. She saved rain water in buckets and dug weeds out of the lawn by hand. Those lessons have stayed with me, but my strongest memories are about the feelings her garden evoked.
I don't know how intentional her design was, but the powerful sense of well being I experienced in her garden got me hooked. Recreating that feeling seems like a pretty good reason to keep at it. In fact, it's been the driving force behind every garden I've ever created.
What drives you? Please share and comment.