Have I ever written about my Dad? Of course I have. He seems to creep up now and again in my writings, usually when the weather's warm enough for gardening or when I've been hiking around in the Utah desert country.
On July 10 I think of him because it's his birthday and sometimes I go to his grave and put the wildest flowers I can find there. Pink carnations or roses from a florist won't do for him. I need my own garden-grown flowers, something unique and different, something earthy like him.
One year I put sunflowers and daisies, one year blooming stems from my butterfly bush, another pine boughs mixed with delphinium. There have been plenty of years when I've put nothing, and I'm sure that's OK with him. One year my girls made a twig vase to hold the boquet in.
I can't walk by a garden without thinking of Dad. Every February he'd get out his Burpee catalog and order all his seeds so he'd be ready to go in March--pea planting time. The first of March he'd go out there and turn over the soil and add a bunch of peat moss, compost and whatever concoction he had to make the soil rich and fertile. He'd have to lay down for a day after that. Working in the garden "did a number" on his back. Along about mid-March he'd get the peas in. He'd put up trellises for them to grow up, and would watch them grow carefully every day.
In April it was warm enough to plant some green beans, and then in May came the rest. Tomatoes were his crowining achivement. Every year he'd try a new variety, and he'd nurture them meticulously in their wire-fashioned cages. Whenever someone came over, (including my friends) he'd take them out back to show them the garden. He'd tell them about the new golden variety of tomato he was growing that year, but that he'd stopped growing parsnips since the family hated them. He'd point to a growing green thing and ask, "What do you think that is?" When of course my 16-year old friends couldn't possibly guess the plant, he'd tell them it was a kohlrobi, a turnip-like plant, but a bit sweeter. They were polite to humor him, even when he snatched the plant out of the dirt, wiped it off on his levis, and asked them if they wanted a bite. I was of course mortified that he was talking vegetables with my friends.
But my brother, sister and I spent plenty of time out there in the garden. Our morning chores in the summer always included weeding and watering the garden, before it got too hot. We grumbled and complained, but we loved what that garden reaped--fresh vegetables for dinner.
Dad was generous with his garden-growing talents. Every Mother's Day he planted my grandmother's garden, and took care of it like it was his own.
My brother learned to garden from my Dad, and I'm convinced it shaped his career choice. Today he is a certified landscape architect and a master gardener. The seeds he planted with my Dad as a toddler in overalls shaped him in ways we never imagined at the time, and now he repeats his own planting ritual every year in Seattle, Washington. He combines the time spent with Dad with the knowledge gained in study and experience, and creates a vegetable, flower, sculpture masterpiece that cause passerbys to stare and wonder.
My sister would plant a master garden, too, if she didn't live in Texas where everything gets burned up in the summer. She did have an amazing one in Alaska, one that I'm sure made Dad start turning over soil in heaven. I would plant one too, if my husband didn't already do such a fantastic job in that department.
I'm wondering which flower to bring to the grave this year. Maybe I bring a flowering tomato plant. He'd like that. Or humor him with some sprouting parsnips, since he loved them and we despised them. I think I like sunflowers the best. They are strong and cheerful like he was, unfailingly positive when things were bad. He always lined the garden with the giant variety, and took great joy in watching them reach toward the warmth.