My father loved to garden. When I was a young boy he only grew ornamental plants in our small backyard in St. Paul, MN. When we moved to the suburbs (better schools, closer to his job) he was able to designate a large piece of our backyard to growing fruits and vegetables. The front and side yards got more of the ornamental – but the new layered produce garden got most of his attention.
An engineer by training and trade (although he never finished his degree as pesky youngsters started arriving to crowd the little house on Wilder Ave.) he became meticulous in his planning. The upper tier did not start all strawberries – but it soon became that due to the creeping nature of the plants. We had June berries, mid-berries and late berries and the quality was always just okay – not sure if it was soil or he just could not wait to pick them (or perhaps we lost all of the good ones to the critters – maybe one day I will tell the woodchuck stories which are hilarious or the bunny stories which are sort of sad) but the berries never were the greatest. Either were the odd things he would plant – broccoli, asparagus, Kohlrabi, etc. – not sure the ground was right and weather in Minnesota was always problematic – but the Kohlrabi was always a weird taste experience.
Tomatoes – on the other hand – were a thing of beauty. I remember when the entire middle level of the garden was tomatoes – almost too many varieties to count and all with his one garden hack: a coffee can with nail holes punched in the bottom. You filled the can with water and the water would slowly drip out to keep the tomatoes hydrated. The last truly active years of his gardening life I would go pick a grocery bag of Roma tomatoes and not even make a dent. Mind you, it was only my mom and him at home at the time – but he loved to give away tomatoes and other excess produce ( strange – he got few takers for the Kohlrabi).
Every year there was an elaborate garden plan – what would go where, what varieties would go where and he kept all of these plans for 20+ years (found them when we were going through his papers). Today, all three tiers of the garden are pretty much dormant – a few rogue flowers, a few weeds and ground cover.
Dad passed away a few years ago and mom still lives in the house – but never had the gardening desire or passion that my dad did. She does, however, like fresh produce and has grown potted vegetables for a while with varying results. With her new Eco Garden Backyard Garden, she had more Arugula than she could eat, enough cherry tomatoes to feed the neighborhood and enough Basil to cover the upper Midwest in pesto (I asked for some when I was there working on the Backyard Garden prototype – see my mom and her Backyard Garden below – and I go 12 leaves). Her plant is wildly prolific and she apparently has big plans for the basil! Seeing the large and as yet unripe Roma tomatoes in her new garden makes me think of dad – she may not get bags of tomatoes but will certainly have enough to make some pasta sauce for today and for the freezer.
I guess as time marches on, we have to be comfortable with the changes – even if it means shrinking a “garden to rule them all” into a single plot for an active but non-gardening widow. I am sure dad wonders how someone can get by on that little bit of plot – but it seems enough for my mother. Mom waters almost everyday – even though the automated pumping system keeps the moisture at the proper level, there is something about dry soil on the top that makes her worried those tomatoes will not ripen or that the basil plant may not provide all of the neighbors with excess bounty. At least she is gardening – and that bending thing is no longer a worry.
Thanks dad for the great memories – and see if you can’t help ripen the Roma’s for mom before winter.