For every bed of colorful tulips and thriving vine of ripe tomatoes, a little history and wisdom are buried in the soil. From one generation to the next, families inherit and share the joys of digging in the dirt and seeing what sprouts. In honor of Mother’s Day, Birds & Blooms readers recount what they learned and loved about being shoulder to shoulder with Mom or Grandma in the backyard.
- DeAnne Beyers (B&B reader)
A Harvest That Never Ends
Whether in the kitchen or the garden, my mom and I made quite a team. She was always on board with my harebrained ideas. I started keeping a journal of my gardening adventures in 2002, and I carefully recorded everything from temperature variations to pest problems. My journal entries also tell of hard-fought battles, with my mom and me joining forces against weather and wayward wildlife. One memorable August entry said, “We found out what was chewing our cabbage and tomatoes. A groundhog! Mom was picking tomatoes and it was hiding in the tomato plant. Scared her to death!” For a while after that incident, we carefully searched each plant for camouflaged critters before tending the garden.
Although the pages of my journal are mostly filled with dates, facts and numbers, my memory is filled with something far sweeter: early-morning conversations that Mom and I enjoyed during planting and harvesting, the air around us heavy with lingering dew; and the times we sat side by side in the heat of the day, sipping ice water under the cool shade of the fruit trees.
As I look back, I realize that the one-on-one time we shared in the garden was not just about growing food. It was about growing the appreciation and love we had for each other. We were sowing and reaping the sweetest and most abundant harvest—a harvest that never ends.
DeAnne Beyer Lancaster, Ohio
(Check out our Top 10 Fruit Trees for Small Spaces list.)
- Jeff Hart (flickr)
Nana’s favorite rose was the yellow-pink Peace rose. Her sun-drenched English garden was bursting with these and other perennials, such as hot pink ruffled peonies. Every Memorial Day, she gathered her peonies and took them to the family plot. Nana lived in Yakima Valley, Washington, which is known for orchards, so apple and pear trees were perfectly at home in her yard. She espaliered the trees, carefully pruning and training them to grow flat against a wall. She also had beds of red petunias around her swimming pool. Every September, we said goodbye to the swim season by plucking the heads off the petunias and throwing them into the pool to float. To a 6-year-old, it was magical.
Stacy Heintz Cle Elum, Washington
- Mary Lou Jubin (B&B reader)
As a child, I loved walking in my grandmother’s garden. She always grew zinnias; my garden would not be complete without zinnias. One lovely summer day, as I was taking a walk in my garden, I spotted this tiger swallowtail butterfly touching down. Butterflies love zinnias as much as I do, and this particular species is one of my very favorites. When I look at this photo, I remember my grandmother and wonder if perhaps her spirit was visiting my garden that day.
Mary Lou Jubin Norton, Ohio
(Attract more swallowtails with Top 10 Plants for Swallowtails.)
- Deborah Lockett (B&B reader)
A Life Lesson
I grew up in San Jose, California, where just about anything we planted grew well, but when I was 12 years old, my family moved to Tucson, Arizona. Mom left behind her sunflowers, vegetable garden, peach and fig trees, ice plants and lots of healthy grass. Tucson was another story. She watched one plant after another die. I’ve never seen my mother so angry and frustrated with gardening. Mom never gave up, though. She was determined to grow a garden in the desert.
As she dug holes for plants, she would hit caliche (soil particles cemented together by lime). A lesser gardener may have been tempted to give up and just stick the plant in the hole, accepting that the roots would be shallow, but not Mom. Instead, she went out and bought herself a caliche pole, which is a heavy metal rod with a sharp point on the end. It was either that or a jackhammer. Over and over again, she slammed that pole against the hard soil until the hole was deep enough and there was enough drainage for her to put the plant in its new home.
My mom has always been a hard worker. She wanted my brothers and me to learn how to be hard workers as well, and I remember us kids gathering around several holes and taking turns with the pole. We learned that gardening wasn’t always a pleasure. (Thirty-five years later, she still has that pole; I frequently ask to borrow it for my own yard!)
She taught us all so much, including the importance of water conservation, planting annuals in cooler months, and which drought-tolerant plants flowered best. When it was my turn, I knew exactly what to do. As a result, I have my own beautiful desert garden that’s bird-, bloom- and butterfly-friendly. Thanks, Mom!
Deborah Lockett Tucson, Arizona
(If you’re in an arid climate, read our list of 10 Drought-Tolerant Plants to Try.)
- Jennifer Hendershot (B&B reader)
I was raised on a dairy farm, and like the rest of our neighbors, my mom had the usual vegetable garden. Unlike the neighbors, she also had a large flower garden filled with peonies, bleeding hearts and dianthuses. I didn’t realize the legacy she left me until I started flower gardening years later. I think of her when my own peonies and dianthuses bloom.
Ken Wellnitz Davenport, Iowa
(Read our 9 Steps to Growing a Greener Backyard.)
- Doreen Damm (B&B reader)
Mom had a huge vegetable garden in the back corner of our yard. We planted, watered and weeded, but what I most looked forward to was the harvest. There was invariably enough for a quick taste test while we gathered the bounty. Mom would always tell me to wash them off first, but I was too excited and would pop the fresh veggies right into my mouth!
Doreen Damm New Port Richey, Florida
- Beth Jeffress (B&B reader)
Tips and Tricks
My grandmother was quite the gardener, and from a very young age I loved working beside her in her lush garden in Hampton, Virginia. Her living and dining rooms always smelled sweet because she picked almost every bloom right from her garden and created beautiful flower arrangements.
She swore by dehydrated cow manure for fertilizer and had hundreds of jonquils, huge hydrangea bushes (alternating pink one year and blue the next), irises, Shasta daisies, annual zinnias and more. Every time I work in my own garden, I think of her.
Beth Jeffress Midlothian, Virginia
- Jessica Allen (B&B reader)
Grandma Minnie loved pansies. After we moved her from her home and big yard into a small apartment, my mom would take her shopping each spring to pick out
six-packs of pansies. Then Mom would plant the most beautiful window boxes and planters for Grandma’s porch. My grandma would patiently deadhead to encourage more blooms, and I still use that good gardening lesson today!
(Learn more about deadheading with our blog post on the topic, Deadheading Your Flower Garden!)
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