Growing things is deeply rooted

The Home Depot was humming on a recent Sunday afternoon as people filled their carts with all manner of flora and bags of compost and mulch with a few garden hoses and flowerpots thrown in for good measure. There were even people clustered around the revolving seed rack, confident in putting a dried, dead-looking speck into the soil and actually getting something green and vibrant popping up through the ground in a couple of weeks.

I have always felt the urge to play in the dirt when the days grow warm, the result I’m sure of coming from a family of farmers. Used to be that every family had a farmer in it, but now we are a nation of people working in cubicles, generations removed from those who tilled the land for a livelihood. But, judging from the line at the checkout counter as I waited to pay for my delphiniums, the DNA is still in there.

I have one of those city yards — concrete outside the front door and a long, narrow yard in the back. My neighbor’s huge walnut tree blocks out sufficient sun for a vegetable patch and so I have put the land into flowers and a swath of grass. Several pots on the porch contain herbs and it’s a delight to dash outside in the middle of cooking to pluck some basil or tarragon. The rest of the produce comes from weekly visits to the farmers market or donations from green thumbed friends.

Both of my grandmothers found time in the midst of housework and helping with the milking to grow spectacular flowers. I think this was their fun part of gardening since the rows of green beans and tomatoes meant work, not only fending off weeds and insects, but also the canning and freezing after the harvest. As a tribute to them I try and fill my flowerbeds with old-fashioned flowers like petunias and foxglove, hollyhocks and lilies.

Certainly there’s enough work involved in keeping everything in shape in my own backyard, but with a free morning I decided to trot on over to my church and lend a hand with the spring planting. The church garden is an absolute Garden of Eden and even those who aren’t members will stroll along its sidewalks or stop and sit on a bench to take in its beauty, the gurgling fountains and melodic wind chimes adding to the visit.

But it is a garden with guts as well, situated as it is with a day care center sharing the property. Sure, the tulips may sometimes get a little trampled by kids playing tag or hot-rodding in those plastic cars that look like something from the Flintstones, but the next minute a child is gently fingering the soft blossoms on a daisy or quietly searching the fish pond for signs of creatures, appreciating the space as well as any adult.

My job that morning was to transplant some primrose and pansies that had decorated the church inside. The pansies looked a little bedraggled, but the head of the garden group assured that they would be fine, just pinch the roots a little bit before sticking the plants into the ground so they’ll get a good start.

The church is historic, established even before we were a nation, founded by Germans. When I visited Germany I was impressed by the way the people used every available space for growing things — even the rights of way along railroad tracks.

I hunkered down in the church garden, starting my chores wearing a pair of work gloves, but soon tossed them aside, wanting to feel the dirt on my hands.

— Nancy Luse is a freelance writer living in Frederick, Md., who welcomes plant donations any time a fellow grower starts thinning out a garden.

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