From springtime through the summer and on into the deepening golden days of fall, she was out in her gardens. Demeter, spreading sunshine and flowers wherever she walked. Even in winter, sunlight and warmth radiated from her presence. Children and house plants blossomed and bloomed under her watchful gaze. Grandmother grew glorious ferns, African violets, aloe, and even a shamrock’s delicate white flower bloomed in her care, along with countless other plants whose names I cannot remember. Those were just the indoor plants. Outside, she cultivated several flowerbeds, a magical white barrel full of strawberries and, along with Grandad, a bountiful vegetable garden.
Though I did not inherit her green thumb, and I don’t enjoy gardening, I have rich memories of all that she showed and taught me.
I can still smell the crisp cucumbers with their prickly leaves and the tomatoes with the marigolds planted between them to keep bugs away. Tomatoes were never a favorite food for me, but I loved how they smelled on the vine and all their warm, vivid colors as they ripened. The rows of carrots, cabbages, and lettuces and the mysterious patch where the potatoes spread out underground were colorful and fascinating in all their textures. Great green watermelons were treats to cool the summer heat. Sometimes there were even pumpkins growing late in the season to prepare for fall.
The sharp leaves on rows and rows of corn stalks and the crunching sound, as we picked the long, fat ears of corn with a sharp twist. Shucking the corn was a delight to all my senses. The long soft leaves and the smooth, creamy yellow bumpy kerneled surface up to the sticky golden strands of the corn silks at the top; they looked like dolls tucked away in their blankets. We cooked them wrapped in foil with butter or boiled on the stove top to be buttered later at the table with soft warm rolls. The flavors were otherworldly sensations all their own.
I recall the green beans and the way I could already smell them simmering in the pressure cooker as we pulled them from their vines. Later in the day, I would enjoy their scent again as we pulled off their strings and snapped them into pieces together. We’d wash them together and she’d put them in the pressure cooker, some for supper and the rest for canning. The cooker making its cha, cha, cha sounds well into the evening and again the next day. We’d have green beans available all through the coming winter from each summer’s harvest. Even now, fresh green beans still smell like home, comfort, and summertime.
On the other side of the house, the strawberry barrel waited with its delicious, juicy rewards. The scent of strawberries will always bring it back for me with perfect clarity. The barrel, three feet tall, with holes at intervals all around it, top to bottom, was filled with dark, rich soil for the plants to be poked in and grow outward, sometimes trailing down the sides and over the top as well. Dozens of them, all summer with their green serrated leaves and the glossy red berries shining against the stark, white painted barrel represented summer at home, among so many other warm and golden memories I’ve stored up like the garden’s bounty in canning jars tucked into the basement shelves.
In the flower beds along the edge of the carport, I helped her plant marigolds, morning glories that would climb up the wrought iron curlicue columns in blue, white and purple, impatiens in pink and red and white, petunias in purples, pinks, whites and yellows, and little green hens and chicks–succulents that fascinated me endlessly.
Above the flower beds, all around the edges of the carport, were hanging flower pots and baskets. In these, Boston ferns magically, majestically flourished like nothing I’ve seen since then, along with spider plants, ivy, and other flowers or herbs. Along the back side of the carport were forsythia bushes, forming a bright yellow screen in springtime and shade into the summer and fall. Later, they planted more of these along the side of the carport too.
Along the front of the house, below the porch, were rose bushes, colorful grasses, orange and yellow daylilies, and tulips in dark purples, shiny reds, and sunlit yellows. Tulips were Grandad’s favorite flowers. Further down in the front yard she had three semicircular beds with small, colorful flowering plants she selected new each year–always with some color scheme chosen with care.
Beyond that, there were multiple places in her yard where she created little plantings of impatiens, petunias, daffodils, tulips and colorful leafy ground covering plants.An old cast iron cauldron became a massive hanging planter above the flower beds on the hill down front, spilling over with trailing vines and filled with colorful flowers. A half barrel turned on its side with tiny white and red flowers cascading out into the yard beside the steps.
All over the property, there were magnificent trees, many of them planted by my grandparents. Maples that were shady in the summer and brilliant red and gold in the autumn, dogwoods with pink and white flowers, apple trees, little cedar trees along the fence line and many more. I can still remember when they were tiny saplings with grass clippings and mulch around them. Their glorious majesty as they’ve grown older still amazes me.
Even without her cultivation and specific attention, the yard bloomed with tiny purple and white violets, yellow buttercups, dandelions, and daisies, as well as the inevitable wild strawberries and purple and white flowering clover.
From the road, our house was always awash in color. It was a glorious feast for the eyes and had pockets of paradise everywhere you looked.
My grandparents worked hard inside the house and out, every day, every year, to make our house a cozy, welcoming home. Though it took so much energy and work, they were clearly labors of love.
In the evenings, they often rested with glasses of tea or cups of coffee on the porch, enjoying the parade of birds eating from the many bird feeders placed among the flowers and bushes in the yard and nesting around the porch roof.
My cousins and friends and I caught fireflies and played our games under their watchful, loving gaze.
I truly grew up in a kind of Eden with love and all the colors of the rainbow encircling my small world. My heart is filled with gratitude for that bounty and beauty and blessings.