Friday, June 13, 2014

Dirt On My Jeans Means Dirt In My Genes

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.
My sister, with Grandpa (Jewell) and his garden in the background.

     If you’d asked me when I was a kid if I was ever going to garden, I would have answered, “No way. Too much work.”
This answer came more from limited exposure and casual observation than it did from the trauma of forced labour. The only garden I remember my family having was the one my father attempted at a cottage we built when I was 14. I don’t remember if we ever had any produce from it and I know I somehow managed to avoid weeding and watering. 
My father was more of a tree man; our properties were always well-treed and he was particularly fond of planting cedar hedges. 
These thoughts came to me as I was lying on my yoga mat Sunday night, trying to calm a lower back spasm after an afternoon of full-throttle gardening.
Lying there, wondering how I ended up with so many back-breaking, wrist-wrecking flower gardens, it occurred to me that this is my destiny. Not the pain in the back but the dirt under the fingernails. By putting in a vegetable garden, my father was trying, however unsuccessfully, to carry on a family tradition. I’d assumed I wasn’t born into a family of gardeners but when I considered it, there are a lot of green thumbs in both family trees. 
It was the men in these families who gardened. My memories are of my grandfather’s vast vegetable garden with its neat rows and weed-free paths and a white-painted fence around it; my (great) Uncle Everett’s garden and the image of him, never a tall man, bent over the plants under a wide straw hat; and my Uncle John’s ever-expanding flower garden at his cottage nearby, a garden my aunt christened “The Old Fart’s Trail”. Even weird Uncle Malcolm, the false-teeth wiggler and chiming clock collector, grew roses so well the neighbours complained about the bees. 
These gardens were on the periphery of my childhood, part of the landscape we visited throughout the summer. When we showed up at Uncle Ev’s cottage for the annual Hen Party, the kids were more concerned with the lake than the garden. The closest I came to being involved was helping Aunt Mildred (Uncle Ev’s sister-in-law) shell peas on the back porch before supper. 
Those peas are coming back to taunt me now. 
Moving to the country, moving into a home surrounded by two acres of green space has a way of activating dormant gardening genes. Until that move, the bit of gardening I’d done was growing flowers on a dog’s grave at our home on Pugwash Point.
Yet it was enough. Like a bulb planted deep in the soil sensing the heat of spring sunshine, putting my hands into dirt to plant a few pansies and daisies released a desire to dig up more sod and plant more flowers. 
I’m carrying on traditions from both sides of the family tree: my gardens are full of flowers, including roses and I’m married to a man who tends the vegetable gardens. 
Do you think there are “gardenian” angels joining us in our plots of dirt large or small? Invisible master green thumbs wearing straw hats. Whose enthusiasm and knowledge carried on in our genes. 
And who try to lend a little support when that big red rock needs to be moved from here to there.

No comments:

Post a Comment