Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2006
Regional Report

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Passionflower is so unique in appearance it seems almost magical to me.

A Passion For Gardening

A garden is a wonderful place of discovery for youngsters and oldsters alike. It's an open window to nature where you can experience all that life has to offer. I have gardened in so many places and for so long that I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly when my passion for gardening actually began. I suspect, though, that it started innocently enough in my grandmother's garden.

As children, my brother John and I spent the better part of every summer in my grandmother's garden. It was a large garden by anyone's standards, well tended, and filled with a maze of gravel paths. We lazed away whole weeks there, and especially liked lying on the flagstone paths in the rose garden, peering into a rectangular lily pond filled with frogs.

Grandmother's garden was built with self-sufficiency in mind. There were vegetable beds; rows of cold frames; espaliered fruit trees on stucco walls; and raspberry, currant, and gooseberry bushes lining the wooden fence that separated her property from that of her neighbors.

Our adventures would begin early each morning at the strawberry patch, where John and I fought the armored snails for the tiny red jewels that marked the beginning of summer. We wandered on to the rows of butter lettuce, beets, and feathery carrots, where we looked for signs of the resident rabbits. We turned left at the leeks and potatoes before we got off the path to walk through the glass greenhouse at the end of the garden. Sometimes we made plans to meet grandmother at a certain spot, and we shared an impromptu snack of whatever was at hand: snap peas or radishes, baby carrots or string beans.

By the time I was 9, grandmother had taught me the names of every plant she grew, not just the names of the fruits and vegetables we consumed, but the flowers, as well. Grandmother loved flowers, which were everywhere -- from the potted geraniums on the back porch, to the passionflower vine that climbed outside the kitchen, to the masses of red and yellow snapdragons that lit the garden paths.

As we weeded or cut bouquets together, grandmother explained that dahlias had to be lifted and stored before the first hard frost; that chickweed grew when it was cold; that potatoes and apples and root vegetables could be kept for months in the basement; and that beet tops, no matter how much I disliked the orbs themselves, were delicious in salads. She showed me how to dry chamomile for tea, use rose hips to make jelly, and plant marigolds between vegetable rows to discourage insects. She explained that you didn't need to use pesticides in the garden as long as you were willing to share some of your harvest with the bugs; that fruit did not have to look perfect to taste delicious; and that as long as enough air circulated between plants, powdery mildew and other fungal diseases could be avoided.

I didn't know then that all those lessons would burrow inside of me or dream that one day I would have a greenhouse of my own where, like grandmother, I would start my own seeds or label my own plants. I didn't realize I would hear her voice in my head whenever I planted a new garden bed. But grandmother's most enduring gift to me was a simple one: her love of gardening. It seeded in me as a child, lay dormant for a decade, and then germinated like any good heirloom seed when I finally put down roots in my very first home.

It is the nature of grandmother's gift that its power increases as I age. Last year, with sudden urgency, I put up a new trellis for a hardy passionflower vine so I could admire its pale blue flowers and finger its corona as I did 40 years ago. I collect and dry chamomile flowers for tea. I tend my own raised beds surrounded by gravel, and there are flowers everywhere. I even have so many raspberry and blackberry plants along a split rail fence that I can give the berries away to friends, just as grandmother did.

Of course my garden is not hers; there are more weeds on any day than grandmother would have tolerated in a year. But in the end, my garden is a tribute to her. It's similar but different -- proof that I am a gardener in my own right, just as she intended.

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