As a young boy growing up in western Colorado, like any other kid who yearned to be liberated from the bondages of learning (even if for a short while), that freedom came in the form of the wondrous and beguiling season called Summer. The long awaited break from school arrived complete with grassy fields just begging for a baseball game, wide-branching trees aching for some kids to come a-climbing. Swimming pools and barbeques, camping and fishing, homemade ice cream and volleyball games…yeah, you get the picture. Heaven!
Plus I had two sets of grandparents, minutes up the road, four personalities all as unique and individual as they come, with different perspectives reflected in big ways and small, right down to the types of houses they lived in, and what they liked to do for hobbies. They all might as well have been born on different planets.
I thoroughly enjoyed the disparities, engaging each one in conversations about the things that animated them, and me. Grandma Genna loved cooking for a big crowd while Grandma Fern wanted nothing to do with a kitchen. Grandma Genna’s house was coming undone all the time. Grandma Fern’s was the picture of prim and proper. Grandpa Doc plunked down one of the first PCs to come out in the early ’80s, making space on a desk just as quickly as he could sweep aside the CB radio and police scanner. Grandpa Mert was always busy building some amazing piece of furniture in his overly crowded garage, listening to Paul Harvey while rummaging around for one tool or another.
Each time Mom said we were going to visit one pair of grandparents or the other, it was as if a magic spell had just been cast once again. I now realize how lucky my sister and I were to have had all those precious years living just minutes away from people with huge hearts, quick smiles, big hugs, and snug harbors where all the family could gather for genuine joy and laughter. Boy, it doesn’t get any better, and how I yearn for those people now, long since gone, and with my own children mostly living far away from their own grandparents. Oh the times how they have changed.
Well, that same grandpa who had a way with building strong elegant furniture was also what I would call a master gardener. One thing everyone in the family shared between us, both young and old, was our love for fresh grown summer produce. And if it could be planted, tended and harvested, Grandpa knew just how to do it, seeing the job through every summer, using hoes, hoses, and how-to. If I think about all those seasons when he provided so much bounty for so many people, it leaves me in awe of any human who still possesses such skills, someone who contributes in real and measurable ways to the well-being of the family, the community. What value…and what a privilege and honor.
Now that I have my own place, and with ample room to spare for the attempt, I have found myself over the past few veranos giving the gardening thing a try. But it wasn’t as though Grandpa had shared the secrets of it all with me. I don’t just naturally know when to plant peas, or how far apart the rows of rhubarb should be, or how much sun the sunflowers like. I wasn’t ready for, or wanting lessons in, agriculture forty years ago. I just loved the way everything looked and smelled when the water misted the foliage, and the promise of squash and potatoes fried in bacon grease loomed ever closer.
Summer is a wondrous thing for a child to behold, when Nature has trussed herself up in infinite shades of green, and the thought of school and winter coming soon is reason enough for a young kid to run faster through the grass, climb higher in the tree, swim harder in the pool. Summer makes a kid’s head spin with the giddiness of freedom and the room to roam. Serious gardening would have to wait.
Fast forward several decades. The harder I try on the backside of bad gardening luck, I’ve come to realize that I don’t agree with what some say is a person’s knack for growing things, versus another’s knack for killing them. Every person can be one or the other. Helping things grow takes effort. Killing them off is easy. Best put, gardening is mostly just a matter of paying close attention, that’s all. And guess what? You too have a green thumb!
Of all the gardening advice I would give, it would come down to a few simple acts performed regularly. My first year, I readily admit that I didn’t do any of the things my friend across the street (who consistently produces an amazing garden) recommended—those few simple acts just hinted at:
Plant in good soil. If your place doesn’t have good stuff naturally, amend it in some way. Buy compost or bagged soil readily available at garden shops and hardware stores anywhere you might live.
Fertilize. Don’t go overboard, but a little help every now and then can make a huge difference.
Keep the weeds away.
Check things often to address problems before they get out of hand.
My first year’s harvest didn’t amount to a hill of beans, and even those didn’t grow. I was a potato farmer, even though I had planted many other vegetables, besides. I was discouraged by my lack of skill, amazed that, despite my best efforts, everything was dead within weeks of planting. Then I realized something. I hadn’t really tried at all.
This year, things are looking much better. Even though I’m mostly growing in containers, and my efforts are still insignificant compared to my grandpa’s, I’m pleased to say that everything is growing and looking quite happy. Rosemary, oregano, parsley, basil, tomatoes, mint…all coming up and looking just fine.
A green thumb isn’t a knack, it’s an approach. A green thumb isn’t good luck, it’s good stewardship. A green thumb isn’t doled out to only the lucky few; it is possessed by anyone who cares enough to get up a little earlier before work, splash a little water on the green things, and maybe do the same thing upon arrival back home. If you want to be a gardener, care enough to do it right. Right?
A green thumb isn’t the thing, it’s the attitude toward the thumb that’s the thing.
Sincere thanks for stopping by!