An excert from A Boy From Down East by Larry B. Gray
There is something magical about spring and the return of new life to the world of plants. Spring is a time for pruning, clearing and planting in gardens everywhere and it is no different for me and my little garden and yard.
Over the past three weekends I have pruned, raked, and dug up all of my flower beds. All this work was done to get ready for the new growth and new plantings which the warm temperatures of spring bring. With the help of my 5 year old grandson, we have transformed the shrubs and flower beds into a photograph out of “Southern Gardens.” Yeah, right. Well it does look better.
It is only natural that I enjoy working in my spring flower beds. I have been doing it for more years than I care to remember. Thinking back, I had to work preparing flower beds for spring planting since I was a young child. Between Mom’s flower beds and Granny’s (Mom’s mom, Mary Foster) flower beds I spent most of my spring Saturdays working in the yard.
Mom was always very meticulous about her flowers and yard. Everything had to be done just right and meet her approval. Her basic routine seldom varied and after a couple of years I began to know what, when and how to do it.
The first step was to remove all the old mulch, flowers and anything else left in the bed. She wanted to start fresh every year. After chopping the ground up with the hoe and raking it out we would mix in the several buckets of chicken manure she had me shovel from Granddaddy’s chicken coop. This had to be mixed and chopped into the soil at just the right amount, acting as a natural fertilizer but not burning the plants.
During the previous week Mom would have gone to a nursery in Bridgeton and selected the perfect plants to be transplanted into her bed. Depending on the bed she would have marigolds, petunias, daisies, begonias and many other varieties. Each was arranged in a grouping to be sure the size and color of the group was emphasized. Each flower had to be spaced uniformly and laid out exactly as she wanted.
After we had all the flowers planted and watered it was off to the woods to rake up pine straw. Once again this was no simple task because Mom knew exactly what she wanted. It had to be fresh fallen straw with no other trash or plant material mixed in. We went to certain pine tree woods where we knew there was very little undergrowth so it was easier to lightly rake the fresh straw off the top. It was amazing how much straw it took to cover all of her flower beds.
Once we got the straw back to the house it had to be placed just so in the beds. Once again it had to be uniform and even in every bed. It sounds simple but it took time, especially when I had to redo half the beds because I would just pile it around the plants.
It was a lot of work but the rewards came a few weeks later when the yard was in full bloom. It truly put some of the pictures in the gardening magazines to shame. Mom and Dad always had one of the prettiest yards in the area.
After the work was done I breathed a sigh of relief until Mom said, “You’re not done yet! Next weekend you have to go to Granny’s house and help her do her flower bed.”
Granny was not as particular as Mom but she still wanted her flowers done a certain way and she had several very large beds. Again I spent the day digging and cleaning out all the old growth from the previous season. I then worked up the beds and prepared the soil. When she thought it was right we would start planting.
One difference between Mom’s and Granny’s flower beds was that Granny liked to grow her flowers from seeds. She mentally designed her beds and told me where and how to plant each packet of seeds. Her flowers would come out later in the summer and she always had a beautiful yard when they were in full bloom.
Even though I complained about the work at the time I always enjoyed working with Mom and Granny in the gardens. Back then they both got down on the ground and helped me do the work. I especially remember Granny with her big straw hat tied under her neck down on her knees digging and planting the seeds.
When I think back, that was the way Granny was. She worked in her yard until she was physically unable to due to age. She worked in tobacco every summer helping the different members of the family get their crops in until she just could not do it anymore. Granny was always a hard working woman.
I still love working in my yard and flower beds. There is something special about putting in the hard work and effort and then being able to see the results. I love fresh flowers blooming in my yard. Whether it is a simple marigold or one of my hybrid tea roses there is a sense of accomplishment when you see them fully bloomed in all their glory.
It is fun working in the yard with my grandson and watching his eagerness to learn and participate. I hope I can have the same effect on his life that my Mom and Granny had on mine by sharing the love of gardening.
I never can quite match the beauty of their yards but I am going to keep trying and maybe someday I will.