My Father's Garden


The quick answer:  Want to understand the mystery of (your) life?  Plant and tend a garden.


My Father’s Garden

My father grew a beautiful vegetable garden in the deep lot behind our home.  He had always done this; he had a garden in his 90th year, before he left.  There were fruit trees on one side, a shaded area for berry vines, a trellis to grow sweet peas for my Mother, wire cages for tomato plants, and raised beds for vegetables like carrots, onions, squash, and cantaloupes.  In the spring he would plant corn, one section each week to extend the time of ripening.   He loved fresh corn-on-the-cob but it had to be fresh; he wouldn’t pick the corn until Mother had the water boiling.  Do you know how at the end of summer, the tomato plants are full of almost ripe tomatoes that aren’t going to fully ripen?  With those we would make a family favorite, Aunt Kate’s Chili Sauce.  I’ll share the recipe with you one day.

Unlike myself, my Father had a beautiful voice.  One song was a love ballad of his time—I love You Truly—that he would sing to Mother when they were getting ready to go out.  When I wrote our family memoir I titled it, I Love You Truly: The Lessons of Our Lives.  Those lessons covered the gamut of our joys and sorrows.  Our family paid a high price for some of those lessons so I thought it important they be saved for our descents in a book. 

When I wrote the memoir I asked Father the “why question.”  Here’s his thoughtful response:  Why do I garden?  Why do you breathe?  I find peace from life’s cares in my garden.  A person needs a place for deep thinking, the kind of on-your-knees, hands-in-the-dirt pondering where life’s lessons are best learned.  I think about my children and the decisions they’ve made, about the people I’ve known, places I’ve been, the dances I took Nina (our Mother) to.  But mostly I think about my life, teaching myself from the pulpit of my memory.  My garden really isn’t work, for while I toil the birds fly about singing, the wind makes comforting sounds as it blows through the trees, and the sun warms my back.  Later, when the plants sprout in their rows it’s very satisfying.

Over the years the ten children grew up and left home.  It became a ritual when we returned to greet whoever was in the house and then go to the backyard and admire the garden.  Often Father would be there, ready to hear the news of your life.  Once I wrote a silly story for children, about a visiting grandchild who wakes up in the night and hears noises coming from Father’s garden.  The child ventures out to the garden and discovers that on moon-lit nights the various vegetables leave their beds to form a marching band, led by the gnarled old apricot tree that looks surprisingly like Father.  I’ll share one verse of the song that vegetable marching band played; you’ll know the melody so sing along:

Seventy-six cornstalks led the big parade,

With a hundred-and-ten cantaloupes close at hand,

They were followed by rows and rows of the finest vegetables,

The cream of Father’s marching band.

Well, I said it was a silly children’s story but it does touch on the magic every garden offers.  The grandchildren loved Father’s garden and delighted in vegetables eaten directly from the vine.  It’s an American tragedy that children grow up hating vegetables, but I could see these kids loved the vegetables they picked and ate.  Gardens, of course are about more than the harvest, though they do yield the healthiest food you can eat.  And they’re good exercise.  But even more, they teach reverence for food in the way it was originally created.  Which brings us to this week’s Healthy Change:

Comment:  Please comment on your gardening experience.  Whether you do it for truly local and organic food, to save money, or just for the joy of gardening, a garden is one of the best uses of your time.

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Reader Comments (8)

Truly lovely post, Skip. My father and mother always had a garden (and still do). I learned to love growing things in their garden. I soaked it up when I was young . . . and didn't realize how deeply it was in me until I was grown up, married, and living in the city. When life brought my husband, me, and our children back "home" and back to the land, we planted a real vegetable garden. Then I realized that I'd found a piece of myself that I didn't even fully realize was missing.

I couldn't agree with you more—a garden is one of the best uses of our time.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZane

Love it. I'm a novice gardener, but my 3 year old is extatic about the sprouting vegetables in our backyard right now and I hope she'll give them a try. Normally, she hates vegetables, but I'm hoping that helping me grow them will shift her tastes, even slightly. Taking her grocery shopping with me and teaching her the names of the vegetables as we bag them together has been nice, but not enough to change her mind yet about them on the dinner table.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

I love gardening. I've been learning by trial and error since we bought our first home six years ago and even with all the struggles, it's become a favorite hobby for me. It really is a deeply spiritual and rewarding activity and I love watching my children learn about the miracle of growing things.

May 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn


This is such a touching post! What a tribute to your father! I'm living with a postage stamp backyard, but managed to get in a few tomato and basil seedlings in our raised bed. I have so many insecurities with my complete lack of experience. I'm hopeful that life will find a way... even in my garden! Wishing for my grandparents, who are all gone now, but ALL of them grew up on farms and had enviable vegetable patches of their own.

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

I am so glad I follow your blog. You have so many insightful things to say and do. I love your father's response to the why question. I do that too while I am out in the garden. A perfect day is one that has had time spent in the garden. Homegrown food really does taste better and makes the meal extra special at harvest time.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Raspberries have never tasted as good to me as the ones I ate as a kid, still warm from the sun in grandpa's garden.

I'd like to read that silly story some day Dad.. do you still have a copy lying around?

July 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

I saw the picture of grandpa's garden and it brought back a flood of memories. I'm glad I read this because our little family planted our first garden ever this year and my wife and kids are overjoyed at how fun and successful it is,but more than that, it is something they will always remember just as I do after making the trek to California and going into the backyard, and there grandpa would be, kneeling in the garden. I would love to see the memoir sometime......

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Skip, do you keep vegetable and fruit gardens in Laguna Beach and in Midway?

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Kelly

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