Published December 6th, 2010
As a kid I spent many, many weekends at my Oma’s house. My Oma and Opa were my father’s parents, immigrants from Germany, solid working people who loved gardening and their grandchildren about equally. They lived in a cozy little house in the middle of an acre in the New Jersey suburbs, a park-like setting that seemed absolutely huge to my young eyes and was full of adventure.
Among my treasures are photos taken when my grandparents first bought their property. It was an abandoned orchard, choked with weeds and a few neglected apple trees. The first structure they built started as a chicken coop, which served as “temporary” housing for the young family. Next came a huge vegetable garden followed by a flower garden. I remember Oma taking huge bouquets to church on Sundays. The chicken coop grew over the years into a two-story house with a cellar and sun-porch.
My father grew up and started his landscape business in this same setting, helping plant sapling trees that became towering shade trees under which we lingered over ritual “coffee” and home-baked cake every afternoon. Aside from mealtimes, there was little time for relaxation. Oma kept us occupied and out of trouble all weekend with household chores and gardening. While my sisters dusted, vacuumed, hung clothes on the line and washed dishes, I raked leaves, weeded, spaded the garden, cleaned out gutters, and washed storm windows.
Each spring we set out young salvia plants along the porch (Oma called them “scarlet sage”) and set up chicken wire to fend off the rabbits. We spread last year’s leaf compost on the vegetable garden and turned it under, raked, furrowed and seeded. The sound of Opa’s baby grand piano wafted through the open windows as we worked, raking leaves out of the English Ivy and shearing the giant yews behind the house, trimming the vinca that was always creeping into the driveway.
In season we feasted on fresh-picked kohlrabi and string beans, tomatoes and parsley, peppers and onions, and later, potatoes dug and eaten the same afternoon. Our Sunday dinner of pot roast, sauerbraten and dumplings or rouladen was always accompanied by vegetables fresh from the garden, followed by home made cheesecake topped with jam from the gooseberry bush.
My childhood memories are all tied up with food and plants. Hunting for pastel-colored Easter eggs behind pachysandra and daffodils. Gathering bouquets of showy Iris and fragrant Lilac to bring inside. Snapping green beans picked into Oma’s apron, or running out to the garden for a handful of fresh parsley to sprinkle on the dumplings.
Do you love plants? Perhaps it’s because some special person shared their love for gardening with you when you were young and impressible and innocent.
Pass it on.