Grandpa used to keep two giant gardens. The front one was bordered with gladiolus, Grandma’s favorite flower. I remember the five-gallon buckets of bulbs he kept in the basement during the winter. I also remember the crates and boxes of squash, carrots, potatoes and parsnips he sent home with us in the autumn. White parsnips, fried up in a little butter? Not bad, my dad would say. I grew to like them just because of the way Dad talked about them.
My aunt kept one large immaculate garden almost as big as Grandpa’s two put together. I spent some hot summer afternoons moving too slowly down the rows of green beans, wondering when the bottom of my bucket would disappear. Harvesting the sweet peas took longer because we’d all stop to shell a few as we went, snacking on the round tart peas, almost crunchy in their raw ripeness.
My best friend grew a garden too. Her mother was an avid flower gardener, and soon Anni had her own little strip of black wet earth, turned over and brightened with tiny moss roses. She took care of the ferns too – large green fronds nearly as tall as I was that we bruised playing hide-and-seek.
Mom’s gardens were a bit more chaotic. There were raised vegetable beds behind the house that we kids toiled over unwillingly. There were marigolds seeded along the edge of the field that came back and surprised us every year, and an odd row of gladiolus we’d planted from bulbs Grandpa gave us. We always forgot to dig up the bulbs for the winter but somehow they came back. There were a few beds around our large lawn, too, planted with tiger lilies and daylilies, sedums, irises, tulips and daisies and geraniums.
I learned what a garden could look like and somehow worked myself up to believing it would be impossible to start my own. I tend to idealize and romanticize new things, new ideas, until I’m actually afraid to try them. It happened with gardening. I love flowers, I want a garden, but I’m terrified I won’t do it well so I haven’t bothered to do it at all. This spring my mother-in-law brought me a potted arrangement of daffodils and grape hyacinths. They’ve run their course and stopped blooming already, and I finally dug up the bulbs.
This autumn we’ll be moving to a place with a tiny garden bed, and I want to at least try gardening, even if it means starting with five daffodil and six grape hyacinth bulbs. I took my wee boy outside to play while I rubbed the dirt off the bulbs and separated them by variety. The hyacinths were already reproducing, I noticed! Some of the bulbs had little half-bulbs growing off of them.
The bulbs are in paper bags in the pantry now, labeled and waiting patiently to be planted in the pre-winter chill. And me? I’m excited. It felt wonderful to get some dirt on my fingers, let the earth touch me again. There will be flowers growing next spring that I dug up and cared for and planted, and though it’s only a few bulbs from a grocery-store arrangement, I’m still proud.