The Journey

If you're reading this, you have a special relationship with making things appear from dirt. To some, it would seem an odd obsession, but to your kindred spirits here, it is a way of being. There are so many things that can bring us to this love’s doorstep: Maybe it’s the thrill of a bloom, the bounty of a harvest, the pride in a landscape, the connection to family traditions or the Zen of connecting and collaborating with the universe in a sacred way – it does not matter what brought you here. What matters is that you are.

Cynthya Porter front yard

Cynthya's front yard is bursting with blooms.

All of our gardening journeys start with a seed, a story, a memory—something that triggered a deepening of our relationship to the earth. My journey has been complex.

My first memories of tending a garden are of me as a seven-year-old girl in my grandmother’s backyard. The project at hand was planting marigolds in her border and helping me was Miguel, my grandparents’ devastatingly handsome foreign exchange student. He showed me how to support the stem upside down between my fingers while gingerly coaxing the roots from the container by squeezing it, and then placing the plants gently into a well-prepared hole. I was in love.

Okay, not really—I mean, I was seven. But I certainly had as big of a crush as a little girl could have that day while planting beautiful things, and that memory has always stayed with me.

Fast forward a decade when my parents decided we should live off the land, so teleported us from California to northern Minnesota (Zone 3A!) and built a food garden as big as a city park. We grew it all – corn, beans, squash, root vegetables – you name it, and if my mother could find a seed for it, we tried to grow it. And by “we” I mean my six brothers and sisters, every day, all summer long. That back-breaking work bent over weeds and vegetables like patty pan squash (of which the rubbery texture of and ridiculous abundance we produced have scarred me for life) produced a hatred for gardening that not even Miguel could have overcome.

As a grown woman, it was a boy again who brought me back to my love of planting, but this boy was a young teen I became the legal guardian for when he was orphaned by his grandmother. She loved hummingbirds and butterflies, so in our first year together, we went to the garden store on Mother's Day and picked out a gloriously blooming rose of Sharon to remember her by. I had only a couple of patches of hostas in my yard at the time, but as something of a memorial for her, we planted that shrub right in the middle of my tidy front lawn.

Soon it looked lonely, so I bought a few monarda and cone flower plants at a yard sale to give it some company. By the middle of the next summer, I had tilled up a 10-foot-square patch of grass next to it and was on my hands and knees preparing the soil when my next door neighbor, a rather humorless woman, looked at me quizzically and asked me what I was doing. “Oh, haha. Um, I just ran out of places to hide the bodies,” I deadpanned to her. “Oh.” She nodded and walked away. That is a true story – LOL.

In my gardening adventure since that time a dozen years or so ago, I’ve ripped out all but a patch of backyard grass and turned my entire landscape into a haven for bees, birds and butterflies. I lost count after about 170 varieties that I am currently trying in the ground – and absolutely none of them are patty pan squash. Every day starts with a walk through my flowers with a cup of coffee, and it brings me so much joy – it only took 40 years and a couple of boys to take me there.

I want to hear about your gardening journeys as well, and in 2023, we are going to begin a “Before and After” column that shows how our readers brought spaces to life. Reach out to us here and on Facebook and share your stories and your transformation projects, and let’s have a conversation about the joy that you are finding there too.


Cynthya Porter is the editor of Northern Gardener magazine. A professional writer, photographer and editor for 20+ years, she's freelanced for USA Today, Huff Post, AAA Living, Minnesota Monthly, Midwest Living and more.

To learn more, join a webinar or workshop...

1 Comment

  1. Colleen Gengler on September 27, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    My journey began somewhat as yours did. I did the “drudge” work in the family vegetable garden. Weeding seemed endless. Plus there was lawn mowing. We had a mower that was supposed to be self propelled but something happened to the mechanism so it had to be pushed. It was extra heavy with that mechanism. The one fun thing was exhibiting a 4-H garden box which appealed to my competitiveness. After college, first job and marriage, I moved to a rental farm. Well, what does a self-respecting “farm wife” do? Of course she has to have a vegetable garden. I really wasn’t a “farm wife” in the typical sense as I had an outside job, but still, had to do it! I didn’t remember much about planning a garden, so sent off for a plan from a garden company. That got me started. From there, a really good gardener gave me some groundcovers and other perennials. I eventually moved those to the farm we bought. For many years I had a vegetable garden, sometimes two actually. I also had plantings around the house foundation, but was intimidated about starting something in the rest of the yard. After going on our county’s Master Gardener garden tours and observing gardens, I worked up the courage to start a perennial bed which would be visible from our living room window. Then my oldest daughter graduated from high school and together, she helped me choose rocks to border another bed. Plus, we planted extra flowers in a washtub for the grad party. I was on my way! It evolved as it does for most gardeners. Today we have are back to two vegetable gardens. The newest is for potatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, gourds, and this year, pumpkins and edible beans. My husband is the master of this one. The small perennial garden viewed from the living room has expanded. There is one more garden area bordered with rocks. Across the driveway is a park like setting with a sweeping bed of hostas. Numerous cedars, Douglas fir, and a few other trees have been planted. Below the immediate yard is an area my husband cleaned up, but we want to leave it somewhat natural. Hollyhocks, a wisteria, trumpet vine, sunflowers, and scarlet runner beans are left to grow a little than the perennial beds nearer the house. This all sounds great, but I’ve neglected to include the many mistakes and silly ideas from over the years. That’s part of the fun and learning of course. Now, I’m wondering how do I make my gardens more sustainable. That’s the next phase.

Leave a Comment