When I put in my first garden in Hamilton, Ontario, I asked Dad how to begin. He said that I should buy what I liked and just start. Well, that was easier said than done. How was I to know what I liked and didn’t like? The answer came to me. I put things in my garden the things I remembered best about people I loved and places I wanted to hold in my heart. I put in lilacs to remind me of my childhood in Michigan. I moved the lily-of-the-valley from one end of the garden to just under our big tree. This plant reminded me of our next-door neighbor in Ionia, Michigan, Mrs. Houghton who loved us as children and who I in part dedicated my M. Div. thesis. Lily-of-the-valley was my mother-in-law’s favourite too. Every year I would bring her bouquets to her home. I planted Peonies to remind me of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I planted tulips in memory of my friend, Fr. Steven Kozler. This list goes on. My garden grew and it was lush. I miss that garden.
My current garden has been quite the challenge as it is at once my father’s garden. After the first winter here a large bush died out front. I had to decide to use that space as a vegetable garden. I had wanted a vegetable garden in Hamilton, but Hamilton suffered from an industrial chemical fire not long before we moved, and my husband did not want me farming in the backyard. Now was my chance to farm, as I had always wanted. I found out about Seed Savers and wanted to try the seeds for the first time in my gardening career. They had Kentucky Wonder beans which were the green beans my grandmother most liked to cook, and so hard to find anymore. Every year since I have planted more and more bean stocks. I share them with my sister since they are her favourite green bean. Cleaning out a cabinet one day, I found my father’s supply of Cinderella pumpkin seeds. I have planted them almost every year since. They are fantastic pumpkins and look so great out front of the house.
The list of memory and plants could go on for some time, but what strikes me most about gardening in this way is how connected I feel to those who are no longer with me digging in the garden dirt. The memories are so strong for me in the garden that I feel my father and grandmother are with me when I am out there planting and weeding. The newness of the plants as they shoot up through the soil reminds me that life goes on - the seed dies and becomes a new plant. Getting my hands in the dirt, putting new plants in, and maintaining the old plants gives me a sense of connection to the past and to the future. In the garden, I get to meet up with old friends and family members and I don’t have to go to a cemetery or a memorial service. They are with me in the garden.