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.
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.
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