By Vicki Garner
Some of my earliest and fondest memories are those I have of working in my grandparents’ gardens. My grandmother, Marguerite Slocum Anderson, was one of the first female landscapers in Arkansas. I still remember the enormous weeping willow tree in her large garden in Helena. It was surrounded by row upon row of vegetable plants in the summer and every color of the rainbow of iris, peonies and her favorite, daisies. With her encouragement, I learned which green leaves belonged to the “enemy” and needed pulling and what color the tomatoes should be before I could pick one for a snack. I also learned that dirt needs to be able to fall through your fingers before you plant, and I can still recall the smell of that garden after a spring rain. In that garden, I grew to love the beauty of flowers and know that a garden can be magical to a little girl when sitting under a weeping willow with cookies and a favorite doll.
My paternal grandfather, Rev. William Arthur Lindsey, was a Methodist minister. During his years as a pastor, the family moved often, and every place they lived, he planted a garden. He had the best vegetable garden behind every parsonage, and as I worked beside him in those gardens in the summer, I found out that dirt is different in different areas of Arkansas, and that it takes being adaptable to those differences to be able to produce tomatoes in Parkin or Dardanelle or Batesville or Leslie. My grandfather taught me that if you improve the soil and water, and care for your plants, you will at least, more often than not, be rewarded with a plethora of green beans that can be on the supper table in just a few hours.
The lessons I learned from both of these grandparents blessed me with a lifelong love of gardening. Those lessons taught me to respect the work that is needed, and gave me a realization of the vagaries of nature when the winds blow hard and Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench in the promise of spring blossoms. The memories of hours spent in my grandparents’ gardens lets me forget my aching back and bug bites as I continue to pull the pesky weeds in my own gardens. The joy of the taste of lush red tomatoes, the aroma of mint in the springtime, and the rainbow of iris, zinnias, and bachelor buttons far outweigh the work.
I have gardened from Helena to Little Rock, from Kansas City to Dallas, and for the last 39 years, here in Mountain Home. I have gardened where the earth is rich and loamy, where it was frozen for many months, and where the summer sun scorched most every plant in the middle of summer. Here in Mountain Home, all my lessons about caring for the soil focused on removal of rocks, replacing them with humus and peat moss and river bottom dirt. A lot of those same rocks were useful, and became walls and paths and totems.
As I work in my garden, I am reminded of a Jewish folktale about an old man who spent much of his time planting trees. A young boy asked him when would they would be grown. The old man answered it would take the trees many years. The boy asked him why he planted them since the old man would not live that long. “When I came into the world, there were trees here for me. I plant so that when I leave, there will be trees here for others.”
And so each spring I pull the weeds and move the new “grown” rocks and plant again. I remember the patience and the value of hard work learned beside my grandparents. When I see a seed sprout or a bud begin, I am so thankful I grew up in my grandparents’ gardens.
Each year we garden we do so for many reasons. Maybe it is due to a feeling of responsibility, or a bond with our ancestors. Perhaps it is to be stewards of this earth that we garden. Maybe every seed we plant is an act of faith, that with rain and sun and our hard work they will grow, and we will reap the bounty and the beauty of that faith. M! April/May 2016