Gardening Piece

I have been a gardener since I was three years old. Knee-high to my grandfather, I helped him in our front yard flower garden. I bent down to pull weeds. I refilled the yellow plastic sprinkling can from the side faucet. I pulled the red metal wagon with the marigold and sweet William starts we bought at Harris Seeds nursery that morning. My grandfather had a patience about him, a relaxed demeanor the rest of my family didn’t have.

“Like this”, Grampa would say, showing me how to dig with the trowel, “Loosen the dirt from the roots, shake good and put in the hole. Push the dirt down, like this”.

I loved the trip to Harris Seeds with its rows and rows of flowers. It looked like the colorful quilts my grandmother would pull up under my neck when she tucked me in and night. The days after the planting time in upstate New York, Decoration Day, were warm and sunny and highlighted the reds, yellows, and oranges of the flowers. My favorite flowers, Petunias, wore velvet colors of violet, dark purple, pink, and white.

We bought red and pink geraniums to plant in the cemetery. We’d kneel at the foot of family graves, patting the soil down gently around our relatives. It was my job to pump the faucet that opened the flow of water from the Genesee River to nourish the newly planted geraniums. I liked to looked for hickory nuts to toss to the chipmunks, to walk to the giant old beech tree with the old rusty Victorian bench that had been around much longer than I had.

In the back yard we grew vegetables. Beefsteak tomatoes, green and yellow string beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, and sweet corn. Rhubarb was supplied from my great-grandmothers house, a few blocks away. Ma, as we called my great-grandma, had a huge patch of rhubarb that grew in amongst her many perennial flowers. We made rhubarb sauce and had it as a summer treat, even for breakfast.

My grandmother grew African violets in the dining room window. They bloomed for her in purple, white, pink, and lilac colors. My grandfather would bring home pilfered leaves from his work as a maintenance man at the Kodak office building downtown. They were easily rooted and grandma’s indoor garden grew.

I grew into a teenager who left the house I grew up in for thirteen years, shared with my grandparents and uncle, to live in Ma’s house with my mother, after Ma died and my grandmother inherited the house. My mother and I lived in the house rent free. Every evening we were expected at Grandma’s for dinner. In the summer, very early in the morning, I weeded and dug and planted, bringing Ma’s perennial garden back to life after the neglect during her cancer.

My mother, who had always been a grocery store cashier during my childhood, had a stint as “plant lady” in the store for a bit. She occasionally brought home stray plants that were going to be thrown out. These were not the African violets my grandmother had. They were foliage plants, ferns, ivies, philodendrons. I remember a gold dust dracenea she brought home, about six inches tall and straggly. Within a couple years the plant was lush and about four feet tall. I began to collect house plants from garage sales and clearance tables. It was obvious I had a gift for resurrecting forlorn plants and making them flourish again.

About the Author: Diane Funston has branches for bones and leaves for hair. A true Daphne at heart, she writes poetry and memoir along with visual art in media of collage, mosaics, and wool felting. She appreciates, as a hometown New Yorker, her home in California where gardening is an everyday adventure and possibility.



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