As a child I spent many, many weekends at my grandmother “Oma’s” house.
My Oma and Opa were my father’s parents, immigrants from Germany, solid working people who loved gardening and their grandchildren about equally. They lived in a cozy little house on a one-acre lot in the New Jersey suburbs near Philadelphia, a park-like setting that seemed absolutely huge and full of adventure to my young eyes and was.
Among my treasures are photos of their property taken when my grandparents first moved there. It was an abandoned orchard, choked with weeds and a few neglected apple trees.
The first structure they built was a chicken coop, which served as “temporary” housing for the young family. Next came a huge vegetable garden followed by a flower garden. I remember Oma taking huge bouquets to church every Sunday.
The chicken coop grew over the years into a modest two-story house with a garage, cellar and sun-porch.
From the very beginning, my grandparents planted young trees and shrubs around their property. By the time I was born the house was shaded by large trees, and evergreen shrubs screened us from the neighbors.
Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Forsythias gave year-round color. A huge apple tree provided applesauce and stewed apples, “canned” in Mason jars and served year round. Touring the yard was a ritual every time we visited over many years.
My father grew up and started his landscape business in this same setting, helping plant the sapling trees that became towering shade trees. We rested over ritual “coffee” and home-baked cake every afternoon in the shade of those trees. Aside from mealtimes, there was little time for relaxation.
Oma kept us occupied and out of trouble all weekend with household chores and gardening. While my sisters dusted, vacuumed, hung clothes on the line and washed dishes, I raked leaves, weeded, spaded the garden, cleaned out gutters, and washed storm windows.
Each spring we set out young salvia plants along the porch (Oma called them “scarlet sage”), set up chicken wire and sprinkled dried blood to discourage rabbits. We spread last year’s compost on the vegetable garden and turned it under, raked, furrowed and seeded.
The sound of Opa’s baby grand piano wafted through the open windows as we worked, raking leaves out of the English Ivy and shearing the giant yews behind the house, trimming the vinca that was always creeping into the driveway.
In summer we dined on the sun porch, feasting on fresh-picked kohlrabi and string beans, tomatoes and parsley, peppers and onions, and potatoes dug and eaten the same afternoon.
Our Sunday dinner of pot roast, sauerbraten and dumplings or rouladen was always accompanied by vegetables fresh from the garden, followed by home made cheesecake topped with jam from the gooseberry bush.
My childhood memories are all tied up with food and plants. Hunting for pastel-colored Easter eggs hidden in pachysandra and daffodils.
Gathering bouquets of showy Iris and fragrant Lilac to bring inside. Snapping green beans picked into Oma’s apron, or running out to the garden for a sprig of fresh parsley to sprinkle on the dumplings.
Do you love plants? Perhaps it’s because some special person shared their love for gardening with you when you were young and impressible and innocent.
You can give this same gift to your own children and grandchildren, your neighbors and their kids, or anyone else close to you. They may balk and complain, but they need this hands-on experience and it will enrich their lives, and someday they’ll be grateful.
If gardening and plants are important to you, make it your mission to pass it on!