There is a photo of my Mom standing knee-deep in bush beans, hands on hips, or maybe one hand shades her eyes from the sun, I can’t quite remember. I do remember her girlish smile, her shiny black hair cut in the style of the time, the bean tendrils reaching to her shins. Almost all of my childhood memories of my Mom relate in some way to the garden; planting, tending, weeding, harvesting.
Memories of afternoons spent colouring together make me think of her elegant fingernails rimmed with the day’s efforts among the raspberries and potatoes. Dinner times with my own children remind me of evenings spent gathering bits of our meals with my sister in the vegetable patch.
My Mom is a grower – of plants, and flowers, of dreams and worries, of memories and warmth. Slim runners of green surround her like a Mucha halo tying her to the natural world in a way that I find endearing and mystifying. Each year that I start a garden it is with a mixture of trepidation and pure hutzpah – despite consulting books and charts about growth areas and partner plantings, pest warnings and hours of sunlight I always feel unsure, unprepared. But she arrives, black hair now shiny with silver, and with the slightest air of recklessness carves rows in the soil, scatters the seeds to their beds and stamps them under the layers of peaty dirt. She is confident and gentle, talking about the way squash like to stretch their arms and how pumpkins need room to sprawl. Like old friends, she gathers each plant into it’s favourite spot; tomatoes with a smattering of radishes surrounding the stems, marigolds brightly guarding the edges of the beet rows, peas tucked nicely into bed with the dill, nasturtiums spilling from every corner of the raised beds. Like anyone who is a natural at something, my Mom is sublimely unaware of her talents, she simply loves the plants. Loves the way the sun fills the sheer petals of the sweet pea, loves the way the honeysuckle smells on summer evenings, the way the sun lingers on the sheen of a bean pod. When things in life are hard and sad, as they so often are, there is perpetual comfort in plants. In the way they respond to water, sunlight, good soil, in the way they exist in both a solid and magical way, their workings mysterious until they suddenly burst forth their bounty on show.
She has introduced her love of plants to my children, helped their chubby toddler hands push bean seeds into place, gathered messy bouquets of wildflowers, and looked with wonder at the blooms, their noses pressed into the scent of a rose. She is patient with them, teaching them while they whir about her legs, and I see their wild edges soften while they dig and plant and water. I am glad of their time with her in amongst the rows, of the triumph with which they harvest their own zucchini or snap peas. She shares not only her love of plants with them, but a knowledge that self-sufficiency and self-reliance are within all of us. They delight in pickling, jamming, and canning and understand the cycle from seed to spreading homemade jam on toast. It seems clear to me that no matter where they go in life, they will carry this knowledge with them – the memory of soil and seed, anticipation and harvest. Most of all, they will remember their time with her; all the instructions and tips, the secrets shared and family stories giggled over, the joy of pushing one’s fingers deep in the soil and knowing that today’s work is a gift that will be enjoyed all year long.