Since yesterday was Father’s Day, it seems appropriate that today I would pay tribute to my father by describing the lawn and gardens which were his hobby, his relaxation, and his pride and joy. He created a work of art with his own labor without benefit of power tools or fancy gadgets. He had spent twenty years on the high seas and then ten years in a city apartment, so how he knew just how to prepare the soil, where and when to plant each seed and bulb, and how to nurture them, is all part of his mystery.
We lived in a working-class neighborhood, the lots narrow and deep, running through to the back street. But our property, atop a hill, was a double lot. It was the showpiece of the neighborhood.
When my parents bought the house in 1942, it had been empty for a year or two, the yard unkempt. My father had to cut the grass first with a scythe. Within two years, and then forevermore, it looked like the thick green velvet of a bridesmaid’s dress I once wore.
Snowball bushes and rambling rose bushes alternated along the front fence, and where the yard sloped down to what we called the backyard, there were bushes of magenta peonies, still my favorites.
There were border gardens at the front and sides of the house. The front border was reserved for calla lilies and prize dahlias which had proper names I no longer remember.
The south side was home to flaming red salvia, and on the north were lilies of the valley and two sprawling forsythia bushes which burgeoned with sunshine gold in the spring.
There was even a border garden on the yard end of the free-standing garage. Here you would find rich purple iris, the poor man’s orchid, and tiger lilies.
Much of the backyard was taken up with what began as a “Victory Garden”: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green beans, radishes, Swiss chard, and beets. Recently, a farmer looking at a picture of that garden commented, “A weed didn’t stand a chance with your father.”
In the backyard was also a rock garden which we inherited. This was somehow my Aunt Dot’s domain, but still it was my father who taught me the names of what grew there: nasturtiums, Sweet William, ground phlox, marigolds, pansies, chickens and hens, Portulacas, Canterbury bells, cosmos, and bee balm. The bee balm attracted hummingbirds, and I would watch in fascination as these tiny creatures hovered over the brilliant red flower.
He had a routine, my father. As soon as it was light he would be out in the yard, first raising the American flag and then scrubbing and refilling the birdbath. After that, he would turn his attention to vegetable maintenance until it was time to come in for breakfast and a change of clothes before heading off to his job. In the evenings, after an early supper, he would be back in the yard, mowing, watering, weeding, pruning, and planting until sundown. He worked at his job six days a week, so the routine varied only on Sunday. On Sunday he would work in the yard, go to church, and then be back in the yard by early afternoon. Sunday was the day to pick off Japanese beetles and drop them in a can of kerosene. My father said they were very cooperative and only came to the yard on Sunday when he could go after them. I believed him.
During November, December, January, and February, my father, was of necessity, indoors, except for shoveling snow. He did repairs around the house, baked bread on Mondays, and read a book or two, did a jigsaw puzzle now and then. By March he was making collars for the plants he would be putting in, starting some seedlings, and ordering manure. I hated that smell even though it signaled warmer, longer days and a return to hopscotch, jacks, and jump rope.
Because he was always outside, my father was a magnet for neighborhood children with whom he had infinite patience. He would explain what he was doing and why he was doing it. I like to think there are gardens and yards of the next generation that exist because of his inspiration
© Dorothy C. Judd 2015
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