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.