Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Green Gene

Jim Carter
Today is my father's birthday.  He passed away suddenly in 2010.  I think of him often while gardening.  Like me, he was a hands-on gardener with a passion for plants.  My brother is also an avid gardener.  I guess, in our family, the green gene is dominant.

His garden was his domain and hobby.  He never required his children to work in the yard, but encouraged us if we were interested.  And when we did help, it never felt like chores.  I think that's why I find gardening now enjoyable and not burdensome.

Growing up, I remember him constantly in the yard even during the hottest summer Saturdays.  He would go out early and work all day in the Arkansas heat.  His lawn was always immaculate.  He would mow it himself and then trim the perimeter carefully with an electric edger.  Hand watering was a daily chore in the dryer months,  returning him to the yard after supper to soak the grass and potted plants.  In the fall, Dad rarely let leaves stay on the grass for more than a day.  It was like a contest between him and the trees.

Dad was also very handy.  He didn't just build planting beds.  He constructed his own hardscapes, including concrete paths and brick patios.  One year he built a fountain, hand forming the oval basin and pump housing with concrete.  (This water feature served as a temporary refuge for a catfish we caught one summer but couldn't bring ourselves to eat.)  Dad also built a small greenhouse with recycled windows and plywood.  He would overwinter many of his tender ferns and larger potted annuals.  He also used this space to propagate geraniums and begonias.  One spring, he loaded up our red Radio Flyer wagon with his surplus of young plants for my brother and I to peddle door-to-door.  I don't remember making much money, but it did represent our first (and only) official family business.

He grew a few perennials, but he mostly planted annuals each year.   I know that starting over every spring with flats of annuals was a lot more work than relying on perennials.  He even grew banana trees as annuals.  Arkansas winters were still too cold for this tropical plant, so he dug up the banana corm each fall, wrapped it in newspaper and stored it in the crawl space under the house.  Each spring, he would bring it back out and plant it again.  When I went to see him for the last time, his banana tree actually had bananas!

On his last visit to my Hamptons garden he remarked at the diversity of my plant collection.  I was so happy to take him on a tour pointing out plants that he had never seen down South.  But he did recognize one plant, a mock orange.  I had taken a division from his Southern garden one year to see if it would grow in my Northern garden.  It survived and thrived, providing a wonderful connection to Dad's garden.

So on his birthday, I would like to dedicate my garden to my Dad who cultivated my green thumb, allowing me to have a beautiful garden and beautiful memories.  Happy birthday.

A mixed bed with the annual banana tree

1 comment:

Kristen said...

I'm a new reader who found your blog last night (googling something about ferns). I've been reading backwards in time enjoying each post, but particularly this post about your father. Thanks for writing.