Do you ever try to retrace your steps back to the first moment you discovered a passion? Oftentimes an interest is not marked by a lightening bolt and a clearly defined start. For me, the idea has to wander through my mind several times before it bobs to the surface as an actual concept.
I’m in the middle of a passionate obsession with growing things and I’m trying to map out how, when and why this developed. My parents had small flowerbeds at the house where I lived as a child but I never dug in the dirt. We had a lemon tree that (to my young eyes) seemed huge, with no fewer than a thousand lemons! Occasionally I went with my mom to plant nurseries. It was fun to run through the aisles of flowers. There were so many kinds, so many colors! I liked pinching Snapdragons, causing their mouths to open. Was I interested in flowers and plants? Not especially. But it was wildly exciting to visit relatives in rainier climates and see blackberries and blueberries growing by the side of the road! We’d stop and pick them, high on the thrill of picking our own berries. At age seven I remember attempting to grow orange trees. I was confident that poking a half-inch hole into our hard back yard soil, dropping an orange seed in, and watering it once before forgetting its location would surely produce a giant tree, loaded with juicy oranges. After two days it slipped my mind as I was far too focused on drawing, watching cartoons, trading stickers, doing homework, and eventually becoming a teen-ager who never thought about plants as there were more important things to do: CDs to listen to, phone calls from boys and hairdos to create.
Fast-forward a decade or two. I’m twenty-five and I have my own tiny apartment. I buy a few plants and put them in my bedroom in front of the window. I love it. Indoor plants make any room so cheerful and full of life.
Another two years pass. I’ve moved and I’ve married and I have front and back yards. Space for plants, although I’m obsessed with beading and almost ignore the potential for outdoor plants. We restore the 95-year-old house we’re living in and redo the landscaping. I choose plants myself and I plant colorful impatiens and cheerful lilies. They grow. I watch them bloom and I feel good knowing that my efforts help them. I see how much plants beautify the front of a house. We sell the house and leave the area for another adventure.
Where we live next there isn’t much room for growing things. Ironically this is when I develop a major interest in plants. At garage sales I choose a few geraniums. I start looking at plant labels at Home Depot. Wow, they all have names! There are so many varieties. I accidentally stumble upon a community garden and I’m blown away. It’s amazing! So much growing. So much sharing. I’d never even heard of community gardens. I’m in awe.
We move locally, I turn thirty, and now we have a front and back yard again. Our yard has trees planted by the last owners: apricot, peach, mango, plum, fig, persimmon, avocado. The first year we get peaches that are small. One year only one apricot grows on our tree, which a friend enjoys for us. He feels badly once he learns he’d accidentally consumed our entire apricot harvest that year! I’m too busy to really pay attention to the trees but sometimes I buy plants in an attempt to put my own stamp on our yard. I plant things and discover the hard way that certain plants really do prefer shade, not sun. Or vice versa. I try the plants in new locations. I plant Morning Glory, and eventually regret it. (Vines are very hard to eliminate!) It threatens to take over the entire house. I cut it down but it keeps coming back. A few years later I have forgotten what I learned about vines and plant a beautiful black-eyed Susan, which immediately quadruples in size, and threatens to overtake the entire side fence. Wait. This feels familiar. Did I have a vine challenge before? Ooops. We try to grow corn. Not successful. You mean all soil is not the same? Oh.
When I visit my grandparents I poke around in the back yard, admiring all the things that grow there. Grandad has Sweet Pea, roses, berries, lemons, and many other plants. He gives me Nasturtium seeds and some of his Clivia. My interest in plants grows. Is it coincidence or is it because Grandad is teaching me, passing on a love of gardening? Who can say? But now that my grandparents are gone, it’s special to me to have plants from their garden. I gradually learn names of plants. I take photos and search online.
I happen upon more community gardens. Each is so different, a product of the gardeners who spend time there, the neighborhoods nearby, the contours of the lot. It’s so fun to wander through these gardens, studying what people do, wondering which vegetables might come from the plants with gigantic leaves, gathering ideas for my own garden.
Somehow I discover succulents and develop a passion for them (and wonder how I never really noticed them before). We go on garden tours. I start making mosaic art to install in gardens. Great combination! I join a community garden. We build raised beds and shovel a mountain of dirt. We work together. We share seeds, tools and ideas. It feels awesome to be involved.
At home, our apricot tree is going crazy. There are hundreds up there (this is the same tree that formerly produced exactly one apricot a few years back). We pick them daily, and sometimes discover them below the tree, having ripened and fallen for us to find nestled in the grass, like late-blooming Easter eggs.
Yesterday I spent hours working in the yard. I swept grass cutting. I pruned trees. I planted bamboo. I wrestled thorns. I lost a fight with a sharp orange tree branch. I taped a piece of Kleenex over the cut and carried on. I watered and weeded. And weeded and weeded. I moved plants and repotted others.