Three Generations of Gardens

Cone flowers in my garden's border

Cone flowers in my garden’s border

While gardens often incoporate new approaches as garden practices and times change, they sometimes link families across generations.

The first gardens I remember where those of my grandparents. They were a farming family who depended on the land for their livelihoods and food. For a suburban kid, it was always a welcome interlude to spend a couple of weeks on the farm every summer. I would sometimes wander my grandmother’s flower garden. Not far from the house, tractor-trailers zoomed by on the highway, creating a pronounced hum as they kicked up a hot, always hot, wind in their wake, but as soon as I turned the corner of the house I was in a different world. There, the garden was squeezed in-between the house and a thicket of bamboo that separated the farm from the neighbors. I remember liking the feel 0f the space, outdoor yet private and full of paths. It had bird feeders and a birdbath, and bright conflagrations of color when the flowers were in full display. The vegetable garden was another matter. I wasn’t allowed in it unless I was sent on a mission to pick something for the dinner preparations. The vegetable garden, which was arranged in long rows and felt similar to the nearby fields of corn, was serious business, which was more than evident in the rows of jars and canned vegetables in the pantry.

The garden of my mother’s that I remember best is the one she had along a country road, when she at last had a little land. She was middle-aged and a widow by then; a teacher who filled her after-school hours with garden and yard work. With her family raised, she had returned to gardening and landscaping with a passion. Her garden trailed down a sunny hill far from any water source so a year of drought sometimes could spell disaster. Fortunately, that didn’t happen often. One of my favorite features to her garden was an old foundation, its low walls formed the perfect border for her strawberry patch. For years, she had a very productive stand of asparagus. It was an idyllic spot, with the curving ridge of a nearby mountain just visible and the kind of quiet that sometimes settles into country places. Her dog often lay nearby as she worked in her garden. Instead of a pantry, her jars and canned vegetables lines the shelves in her small utility room.

My own garden is a more modest affair than either my mother’s or my grandparents’ gardens. I live in a city, and garden in my front yard because that’s where the sunniest spot is. It’s a location that would no doubt have horrified my grandparents with their old-fashioned sense of propriety though perhaps they would have appreciated the practicality of it. My front yard is in one sense a new varietal of garden, born on the urban farming movement. In another sense, it’s all heirloom. It’s my connection to my family’s more agrarian past. I love the fresh food and the quality time spent tending my garden, but I also love the sense of connection it gives me with my own past and family’s shared history. The past is never quite gone, and my garden is one way of maintaining that connection.

—Mark Caskie

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