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Zaleski: Garden wisdom from my grandmother

My grandmother was a gardener when gardening was a necessity, not a hobby. She'd emigrated from rural Poland to the United States as a 15-year-old runaway bride (that's another story) and brought with her the knowledge of and love for growing things.

My grandmother was a gardener when gardening was a necessity, not a hobby. She'd emigrated from rural Poland to the United States as a 15-year-old runaway bride (that's another story) and brought with her the knowledge of and love for growing things. I like to think I inherited my affinity for gardening from her.

Spring gets the gardening sap rising in my bones. But this spring it took an eternity for the deep snow to melt, the ground to thaw, the soil to dry. It's still not ready because frost-fed cold lurks just inches below the surface. The garden plots need more sun, more warm, drying winds.

Still, the impulse to turn the soil, select plants, maybe even strip off a patch of sod to accommodate a few more tomato plants is strong. Even with the suggestion of a light freeze in the weekend weather forecast, the urge that moved my grandmother every spring until the end of her life moves me.

I'm not talking about "serious" gardening. I've never been able to wed "serious" to "gardening." Maybe that's because my modest gardens - like most home gardens - are more about relaxation and accomplishment than the primary sources of food for a family.

My grandmother's purpose was food, not fun, although she thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of her gardens, even soaking with a homemade concoction the iridescent clots of Japanese beetles that threatened to munch away her potato plants and roses. The smelly mix worked. Never knew what was in it.

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Her other memorable technique, which she brought with her from her childhood in Poland, was liberal application of chicken manure - at least two seasons old - which she'd collect in buckets from my uncle's chicken farm the next town over. My sister and I competed for the honor of spreading the yellow/brown stuff over the garden beds while grandma followed, turning it into the soil with her well-worn pitchfork. Organic gardening before it was fashionable.

The memories of 50 years ago in her garden have not faded. My grandmother carried with her from the Old World a rural gardening ethic that she transplanted in an industrial city in the New World. I had the great good fortune of learning from her, although at the time I had no idea I was in school. All I need now is a little more warm spring sun so I can again put her lessons to work.

Readers can reach Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.

Related Topics: GARDENING
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