Although I don’t recall the first plant I ever grew, I thought I would reflect upon two faded photos that sit framed on my bookshelf (see above). These photos depict how my love for living things began as a young child; encouraged by my family, and in particular, by my grandparents. Why I chose to frame these photos in particular is not something I’ve ever considered before – but their similarities are uncanny – from the inquisitive look on my childhood face to the almost identical positions of my two grandfathers as they reach out to me, nurturing my love for nature.
The first photo was taken with my dad’s father (my grandpa). I’m with him in the backyard of my childhood home. Crouching down in my mom’s rock garden. What I recall best from this family garden is the lily-of-the-valley. The way they smelled, the dainty white flowers, my surprise as the plants emerged from the soil, my delight when they blossomed and spread their beautiful aroma. The flowers lived between the rocks in the sandy soil, thriving. On this particular day, an Easter Egg Hunt, I don’t think the lily-of-the-valley were yet in bloom. But there were decorated eggs and chocolate hidden around the garden, and my grandparents helped me search for these delicious treats in the nippy, Spring-time sun.
My dad’s parents lived in apartment buildings for as long as I can remember. Gardens and plants weren’t a big part of their lives. But we used to go on walks and spend time at cottages together, and go to the park where we visited the ice cream truck. Despite that they lived in a high-rise, they did teach me the importance of having curiosity for the outdoors and of playing outside in the elements. I remember my grandpa sitting on the outside porch, smoking his cigarettes. I think he enjoyed his time on the porch the most during summer thunderstorms, reflecting quietly by himself about the day, not afraid to be on his own outside, unsheltered except by the porch stoop and with nothing but his own thoughts.
The second photo was taken with my mom’s father (my Api). I’m standing with him in his brother’s tomato garden. I’m about three years old, about the same height as the plants – they’re shriveling, crispy with the intense heat of the end of the summer and bursting with giant, ripe tomatoes. I’m holding a bushel basket and awkwardly grabbing a red, squishy tomato, twisting it to remove it and plop it in the basket. My Api is saying something to me and I’m listening intently. He’s gently holding my arm, trying to make sure I keep my balance. Proudly looking down at me, glad to spend time with me in the garden.
My mother’s parents always had a garden. I must admit that as an older child and a teenager, I didn’t care much for it – their garden represented a chore to me – lugging water from their reservoir to the plants, weeding, digging. But those days in the garden as a child left something behind inside of me, which I’ve accessed as a woman beyond my angst-filled teenage years.
Gardening is an outlet now: creative, experimental, an adventure, relaxing yet challenging, frustrating yet rewarding. I believe that my newfound love of plants and soil comes most especially from my Api, who was ever-expanding his garden, to even my grandmother’s (Omi’s) dismay… Omi loved gardening but Api turned almost every available stitch of grass into a vegetable plot! My enthusiasm seems to match the enthusiasm that my Api had. I only have containers to work with at the moment, but my desire to grow and nurture new, exciting plants is bigger than my space. And although, my Api has passed away and my Omi sold the house they shared, with its magnificent garden, the days spent watching them tend to it will live on beyond their lifetimes in me, even in my little space, which is littered with hand-me-down ceramic containers from what to me will always be their backyard.
In memory of Api, and grandpa and grandma.