Gardening with kids is stressful, but when I was a child, my mom used to trust me with all sorts of garden chores. I would take care of her tomatoes, her roses, and her zucchinis. I would weed and water and pick the ripe fruits and vegetables. When she wasn’t looking, I’d try to hand-pollinate cucumbers, though I’m pretty sure I just rubbed a lot of male flowers together. I felt like the most important kid in the world when she would let me actively participate, though in hindsight, I have no doubt she questioned how many male cucumber flowers she was willing to let go.
One time, I remember, she had to go out of town, and she trusted me to take care of the garden by myself for a week. I was so excited but also a little paralyzed by fear that the garden would self-destruct under my watchful eye. I took care of everything just like she had shown me, and sure the garden was a little bit of a mess when she got back, but I got a huge high five, which was all I needed to transform into a lifelong gardener. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and every time I’m out in the garden, I feel like that little kid again, with the whole world at my feet.
Today’s piece, Now You See by Wayne K. Wilkins is the story of another child transforming from kid to gardener, and it reminded me of my own experience taking on new responsibility in the garden, and how that changed me forever. In his story, Wayne describes his grandfather as an “old school gentleman” who “preferred his whiskey straight on the rocks left in the freezer.”
His grandfather’s picture-perfect garden is his crown jewel, and by some lucky coincidence, he chooses Wayne to take on more responsibility in his private oasis. What comes next is a reminder to all of us, to start gardening with kids if you want them to love it as much as you do, (even if they pick the green tomatoes—which they will).
More Stories of Gardening with Kids
This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that inject stories of gardening with kids into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!
Now You See
Why Grandfather loved his garden.
By Wayne K. Wilkins
My grandfather was born Henry, but everyone called him John. He felt that Henry made him sound like royalty—“and I haven’t done anything to deserve that.” Of course, I didn’t call him John or Henry—but Grandfather. Grandfather was an old-school gentleman in just about every way. He loved his whiskey straight with the rocks left in the freezer. He refused to leave the house without his balding mane neatly slicked back. Most important, he made sure that things that needed to be done were done—his way. Especially in his garden, which was one of the most picturesque, perfect gardens I have ever seen.
Grandfather kept an array of perfectly pruned lemon, orange, and apple trees on either side of a pathway that led to a running stream. Its little pond was brought to life by beautiful koi and the scent of the honeysuckle and roses that surrounded it. Luckily, those lovely smells didn’t quite cover the odor of the miniature cigars he smoked when he crept up behind us—to make sure “you don’t touch what you shouldn’t touch.”
As he got older, Grandfather could hardly work in his garden. He spent more and more time sitting in the chair on the veranda, gazing at the fruits of his years of labor.
I was his favorite grandchild, the only one who took a real interest in his garden. This turned out to be a real blessing because eventually he taught me everything I know about gardening.
It started the day I will never forget, the summer I turned 12. I went to visit, and the second I walked onto the veranda, Grandfather said, “I want you to help me with the garden.”
My jaw dropped. The garden was Grandfather’s pride and joy—and he wanted me to help him? I immediately agreed. He responded by finishing his whiskey and stubbing out his cigar. Then he stepped out of his chair and limped into the garden. I followed.
“Grass needs cutting, pots need waterproofing, and I need the green scrubbed off the gnomes.” With that, he put his withered hand on my shoulder and pushed me lightly towards the lawn. Then he turned away, returned to the veranda, and went back to his chair.
I didn’t know exactly what to do. He didn’t really give me any orders at all. So I started with what seemed easiest. I got a bucket and cloth and scrubbed all the green stuff off the ornaments, using just enough pressure to get them clean without damaging the paintwork. I looked back every so often to see him staring at me. But instead of feeling intimidated by his glare, I felt privileged that he had taken me under his wing.
I worked hard all day. Every couple of hours or so, he came over and brought me a glass of orange juice—fresh-made from his own oranges, of course—studied what I had been doing, and gave me, occasionally, a nod of approval. It was getting dark and I had just finished cleaning out the pond filter when he told me to stop. I put my tools away and walked back to the porch. To my surprise, he had set a smaller chair beside his. He led me to it and we both sat down. My bones were weary and my eyelids were heavy. I looked into his face—and he smiled and said:
“Now you see, son, why I love my garden so much.” ❖
By Wayne K. Wilkins, published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #106. Illustrations By Chelsea Peters
Does your nostalgia for gardening as a kid make you a more passionate gardener? Who introduced you to it? Share your story in the comments.