Growing Roots, Tending Flowers

by Maggie Goeglein -

The only “grandpa” I can remember is Grandpa Wilburt, my mother’s stepfather. Wilburt was a rather crusty old character–the most vivid impression I have of him is the smell of his Old Spice aftershave and the prickly brush of his whiskery cheek on mine when I would give him a hug at the end of one of our infrequent visits.

I remember that … and I remember his roses.

Grandpa Wilburt loved roses. I don’t think Grandma ever received the thoughtful treatment that he lavished on his little strip of thorny flowers, but seeing how he tended them taught me a great deal about an otherwise enigmatic man–that he loved beauty, that he had the capacity to nourish a living thing and wait patiently for it to bloom, and that somewhere under the prickles there lurked a soft heart.

More and more we live in an era where our children no longer play freely in nature, and where the eldest members of our society are rarely asked to share their wisdom, experiences, and stories. We are largely unaware of our food’s provenance and have therefore lost any understanding of the connection between the soil beneath our feet and the items on our dinner plates. With this cultural shift, we are becoming disconnected from some of the most fundamental human activities: providing ourselves with food and caring for the land that we call home.

Recently, I organized a garden for a preschool, and we intentionally chose to have our plot in the Community Garden down the street. Our students learned about garden ecology, and they were most enthusiastic about filling the watering cans from the rain barrels, pulling carrots out of the rich brown soil, and nibbling cherry tomatoes. Whenever other gardeners were present, we made sure to ask what they were growing and get a tour of their plot.

Through our interactions with the other gardeners, my little friends quickly learned to be respectful of the other garden plots, to clean up the tools before returning them to the storage shed, and to ask before tasting produce that wasn’t ours. They learned to be proud of their work and show the others what we were doing at our plot. They learned to be good members of this community.

*****

This year, my father turns 80. Dad was very close to his Gramps, and Gramps was the family’s gardener, maintaining an enormous vegetable patch that overflowed to the table and pantry for most of the year. I grew up listening to stories about Gramps and his wisdom, his kindness–and most of those stories were set in the garden that Gramps loved. Last summer, standing in my garden, Dad surveyed the tomatoes and squash and then looked at me:

Maggie, I look at you, and I see my dear Gramps all over again. I am so proud of you, and I am so glad that you love the earth like he did.

Rooted in my garden, I had found a piece of myself.

Maggie directs Fall Creek Gardens.