DescriptionLast year I said goodbye to my gardening hero.
Back in the day, sometime in the early 70s, my Dad became a foot soldier in the Crockett's Victory Garden brigade, eager to try this whole new “organic gardening” thing, upend the typical grass-dominated suburban quarter acre and create a new Eden. He did it in no time flat.
He told me his first attempt at a vegetable garden was a "100% failure" but I have no memory of that. All I remember is Dad pushing his red wheelbarrow and dragging hoses, creating elaborate multi-sectional compost piles or hacking away at the worthless sod, making way for new beds.
If it was summer, he was shirtless and brown as a nut, taking only an occasional break for a glass of ice tea with extra lemon and slices of one of his tomatoes, watermelon or kohlrabi, all of which he would sprinkle with salt. If it was winter he was sitting on the couch with graph paper and seed catalogs; planning and fidgeting until the moment he could set up grow lights in the garage and start all over again.
When every inch of that home was landscaped, Dad moved Mom and his wheelbarrow out to the country, to a house with two full acres of lawn, begging to be turned into a rose garden, an herb bed, a vegetable potager, an orchard and bed after bed of annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses and vines. All but the rose garden was organic.
For ten years he loved on that yard until this past winter when the cancer had advanced so much that even setting up grow lights wore him out. Still, by that time he was a local legend. A professional landscaper stopped by after he passed to tell me how jealous he got every time he drove by. He called Dad's yard "a showroom." He offered to buy the house for his son, also a landscaper.
So how to say goodbye to a garden legend? Luckily I found a like-minded spirit at a florist in his hometown who not only listened to all my unusual demands (local and seasonal flowers, please! No floral foam!), but she also took the lead to memorialize him with a live plant and organic vegetable-filled casket spray and a pillow of moss for his head. Because she noted in his obituary that he was a member of the Audubon Society, she added birds to the motif and created a little mini Eden, just for him. I am still touched by her thoughtfulness and creativity.
I can only hope we gave Dad the farewell he deserves. After the funeral last year I made one last loop around his yard. I marveled at how the beds were ready for spring planting and weeding, meaning that my Dad, a cancer patient, had managed to cut back the perennials and clear away debris in the previous fall, in between radiation treatments. I also noticed his beloved wild birds, dipping between the branches, bathing in chilly puddles in the vegetable garden and singing merry songs. A better tribute to my Dad and his garden I can not imagine.
-Story contributed by Bethany K.