Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Roots of a Gardener, epilogue

Dad's garden
I wrote about my father's stroke in November 2013, shortly after starting this blog, in The Roots of a Gardener. My dad passed away on Thursday, August 16, at the age of 87. As an epilogue to that earlier blog post, this is what I read at his funeral service.
 
My father liked to tell stories about his childhood, but a lot of the stories weren't very happy ones. My dad overcame hardships and obstacles most of us can barely imagine. He started with nothing, and I do mean nothing, and made a good life for himself and for his family. When I was a kid myself, I didn't have any understanding of that, or how those things shaped him. It took me a long time to appreciate that everything I took for granted, everything that was given to me, he had to fight for.
 
My dad was a fighter. He was also a stubborn man, and don't you dare tell him he was wrong, or tell him what he could or couldn't do. He fought his way back from a stroke that would have killed anybody else, and by stubbornness and sheer force of will he recovered more than I ever thought was possible. Just a couple of days after his stroke, when he could barely move or speak, he asked us to bring his Kindle and told us exactly how to use it.
 
The last few years were hard ones for my father. The stroke was a cruel thing because it took so much away from him, literally overnight. He couldn't go back to his own home, and couldn't work outdoors anymore. But my dad refused to believe he was disabled. More than once he told me, "that's some good land your sister has behind her. Just put me out there with a hoe and I'll plant some corn." And he was entirely serious about it. I remember helping him plant his rhododendrons, more than 40 years ago, and over the years they grew enormous and bloomed beautifully. They were his pride and joy, and when the deer started eating them, he put up deer fencing before going to Florida for the winter, and took it down every spring. But where the rhododendrons are now, we had a vegetable garden when I was a kid. My father didn't even like vegetables, but farming was in his blood. He planted tomatoes, and cucumbers, and green beans, and peppers, and zucchini. Oh my god, the zucchini. My mother would sneak them into things like zucchini bread and chocolate zucchini cake and more than once she would tell us shhhh, don't tell your father it has zucchini in it. But at least we all grew up liking vegetables, even if my father didn't. 
 
I hated working in that vegetable garden. But looking back, what I really hated was working in the garden alone. When I remember working alongside my dad, those are some of my happiest memories. One day, he told me to go out to weed the garden and what 14 year old kid wants to spend a weekend afternoon weeding a vegetable garden? I was so mad that I swung the rake against a tree so hard that the handle snapped in half. I was terrified, but when I told him he didn't seem angry and he didn't punish me. Well, when my dad was 14 he was driving a farm tractor. He told me years later that he once backed the tractor into his foster father's truck, not out of anger but just by a stupid mistake, and his foster father wasn't angry and didn't punish him. Maybe my dad remembered his own frustration, and anger, and loneliness when he was my age and had a whole lot more work and responsibilities than I ever did.
 
My father and I weren't close after I became an adult, because we didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and because I was just as stubborn and pig-headed as he was. (That seems to run in the family.) But I always knew he loved me, and I always knew he was trying to do the right thing, even if we didn't always agree on what the right thing was. The one gift his stroke gave us was that we spent a lot more time together, we became a lot closer, and I think we both came to understand and forgive each other for all those years we lost. I just wish his last years could have been happier ones. It brings me comfort that my sister was visiting, and that he spent his last days with his baby girl and the granddaughters he loved so much. The one thing that kept him going was his family. If I've learned anything from this, it's that life is too short, and everything can change overnight. So go home and hug your family today, and tell them that you love them, because you don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Breezy morning

Breezy morning

Grasses and bananas are so different, but I love the way they both catch even the slightest breeze and dance in the wind.  It's a pleasant morning in Washington, DC and I'm just back from a trip to Atlanta for the GWA Annual Conference & Expo, sorting through the 600+ garden photos I took in 4 days and trying to get back to this blogging thing.  But right now, there's something to be said for just sitting on the roof deck and gazing at the garden while everything looks its very best at the end of the growing season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vacation care for indoor plants

Indoor plantsIndoor plants, 2016

I'm not a happy traveler; I admit it, I'm one of those people who worries whether I locked the doors or left the stove on.  As a gardener, one of my more realistic worries is coming home to dead and dying plants.  I've been growing plants indoors for over 40 years, originally houseplants, although now I primarily propagate plants from seeds and cuttings for planting outdoors later.  I know exactly how much water each plant needs, and how often.  I examine nearly every plant, nearly every day, and water each one exactly when it needs it.  But what to do when I can't be home to take care of them?  Below are some of the ways I help my plants (and my sanity) survive this perilous time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Isabella had two daddies

Sleepy kitty

Today a piece of my soul is missing, a piece I never knew was there before a skinny, hungry cat, barely more than a kitten, found her way into our garage from the back alley on a September afternoon in 2003.  For not quite 13 years, she became the center of our lives.  Yesterday, I rushed home early from an out-of-town trip to say good-bye to our baby.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Plants and politics

Entrance bed (cropped)

Gardening and politics don't often cross paths, and when they do, it can get unpleasant.  I've avoided political issues in this blog because, first, none ever came up, and secondly, my political opinions weren't the least bit relevant to the subject matter of this blog.  That changed with North Carolina House Bill 2, widely (but inaccurately) portrayed as a "bathroom bill".  In reality, this bill goes far beyond that issue to give a special "screw you" to the entire LGBT community.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Begonias

Begonias

Nothing to say right now, just a few photos of my begonias.  These are all hybrid seedlings from my breeding program, rapidly outgrowing their space under the lights indoors and needing to go out in the garden very soon.  I really like a couple of them, but will any of them prove to be hardy?  Only time will tell!  Click on the photos to go to zoomable originals in Flickr.

Begonias

Begonias

Begonias

Begonias

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Beheaded Botanist

Books

Sitting at my computer in my comfortable office, handling herbarium specimens that are often well over a hundred years old, I sometimes forget how dangerous it could be to collect these specimens in the 1800’s, and how many of these collectors came to bad—and sometimes violent—ends.  One such end inspired a story by Rudyard Kipling.