Gardens inspire memories. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in our gardens can transport us back to childhood and connect us to the here and now. Extension Master GardenerSM volunteers, Mary Alice Ramsey and Beanie Webb, capture their garden memories from the past and create new memories for the future.
Mary Alice grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and spent many barefoot summers playing between corn rows and helping in the garden. “I remember seeing my grandmother in her wide-brimmed straw hat, gingham dress, and apron,” Mary Alice reflects. “She’d be in the garden hoeing red clay onto potato vines. As she walked toward the house, she would pause to push replacement onion sets, which she always kept in her apron pocket, into the warm soil. As I teach my granddaughters to plant onions, I remember my granny.
“Whenever I weed invading dandelions in my garden near oak trees, I catch a memory-vision of my great-grandpa. He’s wearing his felt hat with plaid shirt and faded overalls and gathering early spring dandelions for salads. In my vision, he approaches me smiling, carrying his sack of greens and a bundle of oak strips to be woven into baskets.
“My parents gardened from necessity, growing vegetables to be canned and frozen for the winter. The pungent smell of tomato vines and the prickly touch of cucumbers always conjure up memories of their garden.”
When Beanie Webb is asked what garden memory first comes to her mind, she quickly replies, “Dianthus! I remember that ‘clovey’ smell from my grandmother’s enormous flower bed in her magnificent backyard. I can just see her among the flowers in her straw hat and scarf, wearing lipstick and rouge! She always wore dresses except when gardening. But time in the garden was an occasion for pants.”
Beanie’s parents bought a 100-year-old farmhouse in Georgia with eighteen bare acres ready for landscaping. As the youngest of five children, she spent a great deal of time with her mother, both outside and in garden shops, where she frequently heard, “Oh, I’ve got to have that plant! That’s my favorite!” And Beanie learned that her mother, a nationally accredited flower show judge and garden club president, had many, many “favorites.”
Both Mary Alice and Beanie invest their gardens with powers that help ease life transitions, introduce us to amazing animals, link us to friends, and connect generations.
“Beyond the time that Alzheimer’s removed her from deep conversations,” Mary Alice says, “my mama continued to smile and pick pole beans in the garden. She would pause frequently to listen to birds and watch butterflies. Over the years, I’ve watched as bluebird babies grew from hatchlings to fledglings. I’ve fed turtles, seen frogs in the frog house, and watched butterflies emerge from chrysalises. Once, as I stood telling friends what a magical place my garden is, a butterfly paused to light on my shoulder, sunning its wings before moving to nearby zinnias. These memories stay with me.”
“My garden fosters friendships,” comments Beanie. “I’ve met new people and connected with other gardeners. There are so many ways to share, talk about, learn, and explore what it means to garden. Gardening provides me with a feeling of continuance – an enjoyment that passes from generation to generation.”
Mary Alice reiterates that feeling of continuance. “My own grandchildren have planted, watered, weeded, and harvested vegetables with me for years. They love the licorice smell of fennel, the sweet aroma of lavender, and the feathery feel of carrot tops. Delightfully, we have learned that even the pickiest of eaters will munch on just-picked peas, green beans, and tomatoes. I hope these young girls will remember the tastes and smells of the garden. I also hope they will remember me in my overalls and straw hat, pulling weeds and picking squash. I’m planting memories just like I plant vegetables.”
Gardens encourage dreams, but they also inspire memories. They urge us forward and they carry us back. Gardens are sensual places that prompt connections and recollections. “Memories in the garden can make me feel just like a kid again!” exclaims Beanie. Whether you are new to cultivation or a seasoned gardener, your ventures will provide communication and continuance unlike any other. So, let’s get out there and make some more memories. The garden is calling.
Article written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.