Wednesday, June 30, 2010

End Of June Reminders

Summer flowers in the garden remind me of where I learned gardening.  My grandfather George, on dad's side, came to Chicago in 1920 as a young man from a farm in Missouri.  He brought with him an enduring love and skill for gardening.  He lived on the south side of Chicago and had an acre of land filled with flowers, fruits, berries, and vegetables.  I shared many hours with him in this garden planting, watering, weeding, feeding, and harvesting.  The summer nights were warm and fireflies filled the garden with dancing lights, accompanied by cricket song and the murmur of neighbors.  We sat in steel lawn chairs near the garden and enjoyed the evening sounds and smells.  He smoked a big cigar and the mosquitoes saw fit to remain on the sidelines.

Grandpa told me tales of the farm and of his early years in Europe and Chicago.  Several items stuck with me.  I learned that gardens are filled with many ideas and seeming contradictions of color, smell, taste, and texture.  Gardens are places where ideas and experiences blend and find their common ground; full of blossoms and the fruits of summer sun, rain, warmth, and deep soil.  Grandpa was like his gardens.  He studied at the University of Chicago for a Ph.D. in Divinity, became a Baptist minister, and then quit that to become an insurance salesman.  Through all of these experiences, he grew dinner plate-sized dahlias and gave them to people he visited and at the church suppers attended through his life.  He loved people and did what was needed to help them, whether it be ministry or insurance; he remained true to his garden of ideas and actions.

Every year Grandpa began the garden season by cultivating a big load of composted horse manure from the Illinois country-side into the soil.  He knew the value of including waste into growth and was not afraid to make sweet-smelling flowers from barnyard manure.  He instinctively avoided using manufactured chemicals in his gardens.  Plants grew on abundant animal nutrients and a gardener's love, beyond the reach of disease and insects.  When I enjoy the flowers of summer, I remember how Grandpa found a place for conflicted ideas in his garden and inspiration from the people around him.  He showed me that growth and creativity of ideas and gardens came slowly from careful work with the elemental forces of wildness.  

Posted by michael

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