What was your first plant or plant memory?
I don't actually remember my first plant, or my second. I am sure though, as a small girl, that I claimed some plants in our garden, sprouted potatoes and avocado pits in school, and so on. Recently, this writing prompt from urban gardening guru Gayla Trail, provoked some thoughtful reminiscing.
What I do remember about the "early" plants is divided into two categories - indoor plants and outdoor plants. I didn't know much about either for the first two decades of my life.
Tulips are a family emblem, thanks to my mother's Dutch heritage. We wish for bouquets of them, rather than roses. Other indoor plants, properly potted and rooted, didn't last long at our house. Perhaps they were over-watered. Perhaps under-watered. Perhaps they were persnickety annuals ignored in shady corners while we went about the busyness of 4-H, Key Club, community initiatives, and family life.
Outdoor plants, were edible or not. The ones we couldn't eat were largely invisible. It wasn't until many years later that I learned more about the natural history of my home. The names of trees, birds, plants, and their relationships remained an unexplored mystery throughout my childhood.
There was, and still is, one grand exception - the towering hedge of lilacs surrounding my childhood home. We watched and waited for the leaves, buds, and flowers with great anticipation. In early summer, they transform our back yard into a secret garden infused with lavender sweetness. They grow as high as the bay window in my second-floor bedroom. Each year I felt like Rapunzel, leaning out of my tower, a braid of blossoms dangling down to the earth. Years later, we filled a room with those very blossoms, fragrant memories helping to celebrate my wedding.
As for edible plants, gardening was always a multi-generational effort. Aside from a few early gardens in town, most years we collaborated on a large garden at our grandparents' place, a few miles west of town.
There, my sisters and I were a weed-removal crew, cajoled with promises of ice cream and trips to the swimming pool. By hand, we picked off potato bugs and caterpillars, plunging them into containers of an unknown liquid in which they thrashed furiously, twitched, and then stilled. To this day, I am amazed by the color of potato bug guts - a vivid yellow-orange splat on rich black soil.
We left off gardening when we were old enough to choose our after-school pursuits, and I didn't come back to it until I was in college. While majoring in Sustainable Food and Agriculture, I spent summers coaxing a new corner of Grandpa's yard into fertile productivity.
We renovated an old greenhouse, and grew berries, tomatoes and winter greens. We debated the merits of organic gardening - my preference - versus conventional application of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers - his habits. We made our truce by delineating which sections of soil were under which management regime. Then, as any graceful eater does, we savored the fruits of both methods.
We planted a vast row of asparagus crowns, built a stepped pyramid for strawberries, and constructed tipis for beans and squashes that never grew quite high enough. We let the radishes run feral, dug up pound after savory pound of garlic in the spring. We cultivated an adult relationship that had once been only childhood memories of sweets and soda pop. We fed cousins and aunts with the abundance, and we still talk about turning the whole project into a market garden.
Meanwhile, I have moved across the continent and planted new roots, the asparagus I have yet to taste is wildly productive, and the brambles in that greenhouse should be transplanted outdoors.
Now, planting and growing, indoors and out, is fundamental to how I connect with where I am. It is a perennial fixation.
In the north, I am itching to turn the soil, scatter seeds, and tend something tasty through yet another season. While the snow melts, I water the houseplants and dream of fresh peas.