Cultivation: A Family Tradition

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My grandparents, who have divorced and remarried, always had a garden when my dad was growing up. Both of my grandparents and my dad remembered these times during our interviews. They had a farm and a peach orchard, “so it just seemed logical to have a garden too,” explained my grandma, “We really could sit down to a dinner with just about everything being grown on our farm or our neighbor’s farm.” They grew what they liked to eat including potatoes, tomatoes, squash, onions, asparagus, radishes, carrots, black eyed peas, peaches, pinto beans, okra, and cucumbers. With the products of the garden, my grandma would freeze or can the veggies and make jams and jellies from the peaches and plums.  For her, it was about putting in the work to have cheaper, fresher food to feed the family. For my dad, it was work, the kind of work a little boy does not want to do when he gets home from school – pulling weeds, watering the plants, and squashing bugs. My dad and my grandma both laughed about the days when she would pay him and his siblings to pick the potato bugs” off the plants in the garden and collect them in a jar. My grandma would count them up and pay them a penny a piece for the bugs. My dad hated this, of course, but looking back, he says this is why he’s not bothered by bugs as an adult. Although the kids never enjoyed the garden labor, my grandma believes that it taught them to get up, get to work and to appreciate fresh food - “You have to work to eat, it doesn’t just fall out of the sky!” Although my grandma no longer keeps a garden, she makes sure to fill her home with many houseplants to freshen the air and simply to provide a sense of joy. She says she has always had plants and always will! 

On the other hand, for my grandpa, gardening has always been a hobby, something that gives him pleasure and satisfaction. His father gifted him some radish seeds when he was six years old, and thus began a lifelong passion for gardening. My grandpa’s father, my great-grandfather, was always a big gardener as well. One generation earlier, my great-great grandparents began gardening to help them get by. As a child, gardening was something my grandpa and his father could do together. He explained, “Some dads like to play football with their kids, my dad thought it was more valuable to garden.” He learned a lot from gardening with his father, including the best variety of tomato - the Porter tomato, which was the only kind my great-grandfather grew, and now the only kind my grandpa grows. Planting these tomatoes always reminds him of his dad and good memories in the garden together. In the garden that he has spent years perfecting, my grandpa grows his favorite vegetables both to consume and to share: spinach, beets, green beans, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, turnips, sugar snap peas, okra, garlic, potatoes, and onions. Everything in the garden is grown organically, and my grandpa even has a beehive to pollinate the garden and provide fresh honey for harvesting. In his eyes, the value of gardening can be found in the physical exercise, the relaxation, the opportunity to share, and the lesson learned of committing to something and staying with it. 

While my dad didn’t quite follow the tradition of enjoying gardening with his dad when he was a child, he revisited the activity a little later in life. “As kids,” he shared, “I guess we didn’t see or understand the value of what we were doing and learning.” He never expected to pick it back up, but when my sisters and I were growing up, he realized that he wanted us to know where real food comes from and that growing it was something we were capable of doing. In addition to this important life lesson, my dad explained, “there is something peaceful and relaxing about working in the dirt and caring for a plant. It is rewarding to grow something so healthy and wholesome. You can allow your own fruits and vegetables to ripen on the plant, so they taste better too, particularly fruit, like peaches.” My dad fills our small garden with plants that grow easily in the hot Texas sun - jalapenos, tomatoes, blackberries, Aloe Vera, rosemary, cilantro, basil, lemon mint, and green onions. My little sister, Elizabeth, has taken the most interest in gardening with my dad. In addition to caring for the garden, my dad and Elizabeth tend to a couple of backyard chickens from whom they receive fresh eggs daily.  Similarly, to how my grandpa and great-grandpa viewed gardening as a time to bond, my dad says gardening with Elizabeth, “is something that we can both enjoy doing together. You know with daughters that can be hard to figure out.”  

Because of his experience growing up, my dad makes sure to find the balance between showing Elizabeth the hard work that goes into a garden without letting it become a chore. Although she isn’t always fond of the work and finds it sad when plants die, Elizabeth has fun gardening and enjoys watching plants grow as the fruit of her labor. She loves to cook with the herbs she grows – her favorite dish is tomato basil soup. Most of what she knows she has learned from my dad or from the books he has given her about Texas gardening. It is something she plans on teaching her kids as well because “it’s valuable information for everyone to know and it brings a general sense of joy. It’s just good for you!” My sister loves spending time in the garden; she often sits there, reads a book, and watches the bugs do their thing. While diligence and patience are some of the lessons Elizabeth has learned from gardening, she has also gained a unique awareness of the importance of pollinators. Working in the garden has given her an opportunity for a personal experience with these bugs that have led to an appreciation and greater understanding of the bugs that are supposed to be in the garden.  

While each member of my family had different reasons for gardening, I see a family connection that I believe will continue for many more generations. I am curious to see how this happens and how I might be involved. From what I have encountered, sharing, of both the knowledge of how to care for plants and the plants themselves, is central to horticulture. It seems to me that its just what plant people do, and it is clear within my own family. Although I have not necessarily been a part of it, I see how gardening has become engrained in these relatives as it is passed down from generation to generation. Even if you would rather be doing anything but gardening, as in my dads' case as a kid, it leaves a mark on you. There is this transfer of knowledge, skills, and values by spending time working in the dirt with others. Whether it be purposeful by the will of parents or simply subconscious, there is no escaping the values taught through gardening.

-Story contributed by Gabrielle H.

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“Cultivation: A Family Tradition,” Community of Gardens, accessed May 13, 2021, https:/​/​communityofgardens.​si.​edu/​items/​show/​12422.​
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