In the Garden I Grow
When I told my husband I planned to spend Saturday morning picking strawberries, he teased.
“You’ll be the only little chocolate drop out there,” he said. “Black people ain’t picking NOTHING – no more!”
I burst out laughing and explained that I like to get my hands in the dirt. It’s a way of connecting to the earth. Also, I have fond memories of gardening with my paternal grandparents. Every year, since I was a young girl and they were retired, I watched them delight in their harvest of corn, okra, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, kale, collards, and other veggies. Grandma, even more than Granddad, eagerly anticipated the spring, waiting for the first break in the frost so they could till their plots. I had watched them pickle and “can” enough produce to last them through the winter and afford them significant savings in their grocery bills. My mother and her mother-in-law, my maternal Grandma, had welcomed me to their garden, where I learned to plant, weed, and harvest beets, carrots, yams, and other veggies right in the heart of “the urban jungle” where we lived.
I’d live in a row house in the inner city of the Nation’s Capitol. My Grandparents had gardens in the rear and on the side of their brick house and also manned a plot in a nearby community garden. Y mother and paternal grandmother had a plot in community garden in another area of the city. Gardening, to me, meant ensuring your own food in case any major calamity hit and the grocery stores and its supplies ever shut down. Gardening meant working your connection to the earth to secure your and your family’s survival.
Although I have neither the time, energy, or inclination to create and maintain my own garden these days, I enjoy novelty gardening.
“Why don’t you do this: save up your little money, buy the strawberry farm, and spare the whole race the embarrassment of you going out there picking the white man’s strawberries,” my husband teased.
I enjoyed a hearty laugh with him, but proceeded to the strawberry patch.
With my sleeves rolled up, kneeling down with my flat box in hand, I suddenly remembered one more thing I loved about gardening: my great grandparents had kept a strawberry patch in their backyard, located in the heart of Washington, D.C., for me and my cousins. Kneeling and picking strawberries now – in my 40s – I was reminded of days in my youth when I first learned to pick strawberries in my great-grandparents’ back yard. I remembered eating as many as I “saved for later.” My great grandparents and grandparents had experienced The Great Depression and believed in “saving for hard times.”
I recalled other lessons I had learned through gardening – and from my grandparents and great grandparents who gardened.
I was helping my grandparents prep their soil for seeds one year and Grandddad told me why I had to chop and pull up some old weeds that had branched out from a tall tree in their yard.
“The old roots will choke out roots from your new plants. You’ve got to cut those old roots out,” Granddad said. I thought about that one comment for weeks, and applied it to other areas of my life: cut out the old or it will choke the life out of what’s new.
Weeds – which are “unintended plants” – will drain nutrients from the soil and destroy your “intended plants,” Grand Dad believed. But I delighted in unintended red tulips that showed up in my yard. I allowed them to live until they died a natural death.
In the garden, I realized I must root out some of my grandparents’ beliefs and traditions in order for my own to grow.