Mom planted more than vegetables

I always think of my mom when I garden. It was her passion. Her escape. She had the knack. You know what I mean, everything grew big and looked good- just like the catalog said it should.

She was a farmer at heart, just like her parents and their parents. Growing vegetables and reaping the rewards made her happy. I grew up in the city, but she was raised in the country. 

Our backyard garden reflected her roots.

This city gal learned early on that planting beans and corn together not only saved space, it saved energy—no need to stake beans when the corn stalk grew tall. I learned to wear long sleeves when picking beans. Those leaves are much sharper than they appear. And, not to brag, but I can string a mess of beans pretty darn quick.

Del Monte makes a fine can of green beans, but nothing like those canned on your own stove burner. I have vivid memories of sitting at the kitchen table, watching her remove jars from the boiling water, and taking the dishtowel to tighten the lids. She would hush me as we listened for the canning lids to pop. Who knew these nothing moments would become such tender memories?

I learned to grow tomatoes. Depending on who was doing the picking, I would eat them fresh off the vines with sugar or salt. Mom liked salt; her dad liked them sweet and would sprinkle the slices with sugar. To this day, a fresh picked tomato and a baby cucumber tossed with a bit of salt is one of my favorite meals. 

In her backyard garden, she also grew horseradish, rhubarb, green peppers, hot peppers, and sometimes potatoes. Yes, I did weed and dig hills of potatoes. I learned a little green on the potato was a sunburn, and that was why we worked the rows to keep the soil mounded at the base of the plants during the growing season.

Ornamentals and fussy flowerbeds were not where my mom spent her energy. She preferred to give time to where she would have a harvest that would feed us then and through the winter. 

The vegetable garden was out back. The big front porch was her one exception to the need for plants to earn their keep and a place to add colorful annuals.

We had a front porch swing, and she did like to have flowers framing the view from the swing. Every Mother’s Day, my sister and I would treat her to plants to fill the boxes. Even before we had change in our pockets, this was her gift—a shopping trip to the garden center.    

We would wander through the flowers for sale, deciding what to bring home. We would ooh and awe over the colors of so many choices. I laugh now because it was always germaniums. Red geraniums for the large decorative cement planters that sat on the porch banisters.

The gardens at the little house on the big hill are different from those of my childhood. Yes, I grow a garden because it is what I know and feels familiar. It is more my hobby and escape than a means to fill my pantry.

My mom has been gone for twenty-five years. I still plant geraniums every spring. I think of her when I come in from the garden with green hands and the smell of tomato vines on my shirt. I hope she is smiling, knowing that I have taught several friends how to can beans and tomatoes over the years. 

Funny, we thought we were giving her the gift of flowers, but really, she was giving us the gift of memories and a love of the land.