From the Garden: "Pass Along" Gardening

By Erin Breglia

More often than not, gar­den­ing is a tra­di­tion, some­thing passed along from gen­er­a­tion to generation. 

In my ear­li­est mem­o­ries, I was either out­side play­ing or inside read­ing and day­dream­ing about the enchant­ed forests of fairy­tales, which evolved to seek­ing out spaces in nature to write and cre­ate art. My first job was as a veg­etable pick­er at an organ­ic farm. I made $2 an hour and saved enough to buy a new bike. As a young adult I main­tained a large veg­etable gar­den for a local food pantry. All the while my imag­i­na­tive mind was search­ing for ways to con­nect deep­er with plants. This even­tu­al­ly led to a col­lege degree in Plant Sci­ence with an intern­ship at Lan­dis Arbore­tum, where I met Car­ol Loucks. 

Car­ol, then already in her 90s, was an avid gar­den­er and long­time vol­un­teer at Lan­dis. She instruct­ed me to wear long sleeves, a hat, gloves, and plen­ty of sun­block. I learned a lot from Car­ol: always focus on the edge and if you can’t get all the weeds out, just weed around the plants in bloom. She was also a big fan of dead­head­ing,” remov­ing spent blooms to con­tin­ue flower pro­duc­tion rather than seed. This was price­less infor­ma­tion and real­ly expand­ed the flower pow­er in the peren­ni­al beds. The fol­low­ing sum­mer, I enjoyed work­ing with Vik­to­ria Ser­afin at Glen­brook Farm, pot­ting up native plants for orders. Hands-on expe­ri­ence, espe­cial­ly for gar­den­ers, is an invalu­able asset.

Any­one who’s gar­dened for a while has been giv­en pass along plants” from one gar­den­er to anoth­er, evok­ing mem­o­ries of neigh­bors, friends, or rel­a­tives who some­times have passed along too. I have giv­en away many plants over the years, and I have also acquired many that I love to see bloom year after year. The main ones at my home are the peonies and but­ter­fly weed from Bet­sy Thomp­son and Bet­ty Bergen, avid gar­den­ers in the Cap­i­tal Region. When I was look­ing for black-eyed Susans for my front door­way, I was gift­ed with Rud­beck­ia – and more! All of these plants are espe­cial­ly mean­ing­ful because of the mem­o­ries they evoke. It’s the rea­son we offer flow­ers to that spe­cial some­one, or as a ges­ture of com­fort when one suf­fers a loss. 

Nolan Marciniec, an Arbore­tum trustee, told me, I am for­tu­nate to have a patch of my grandmother’s apple mint that is per­fect for mak­ing tea; a bed of Hype­r­i­on’ daylilies from my mother’s gar­den (an old 20’s heir­loom that still retains its scent); and sea hol­ly (Eryn­gium) from a friend’s gar­den in Lithua­nia. I have, from Arbore­tum col­leagues, beds of mums in mul­ti­ple hues and Rosa gal­li­ca offi­cianalis (the apothecary’s rose”): one cheers my spir­its in the fall, the oth­er in the ear­ly sum­mer. And yes, I’ve passed along plen­ty of cut­tings and seeds myself.” In fact, this year Nolan passed along some of his late bloom­ing chrysan­the­mum cut­tings to me. They were passed along to him by Flo­rence Grimm, a long­time friend of the Arboretum!

As a moth­er of two, I have indulged in pass­ing the gar­den­ing tra­di­tion on to my chil­dren, plant­i­ng veg­eta­bles and teach­ing plant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. We are explor­ing the envi­ron­ment togeth­er, talk­ing about what Nature is and why it mat­ters, and hope­ful­ly nur­tur­ing future gar­den­ers. Right now the boys enjoy find­ing bugs, see­ing trees, and jump­ing in leaves best! Most impor­tant, they love to share their excite­ment for these activ­i­ties with oth­ers, which I know is the spark that keeps the act of pass­ing things on” alive.

Fall 2020

Volume 38 , Number 3

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