One of the legacies I’ve received is the love of gardening and I’m not sure from whom I learned this passion. However, I do know that the gardening memories which to this day hug me and trigger all my senses were planted and grew in my childhood.
There’s the sounds of loosened gray rocks as my skinny preschool legs trespass a well-fertilized goat path in the foothills of Lebanon. I’m following my nanny’s lyrical voice as she instructs me on how to pick the wild thyme for our cucumber and tomato dinner salad. I pick as instructed and rub a few leaves in my palms. I inhale the lemony tang, feel the tickle at the back of my throat, and can taste the salad to come!
There’s the trickle of water arching from a red rubber hose into pots, pots, and more pots lined up along a roof-top Beirut garden. The exotic variety of flowers blooming in that concrete jungle is a perfumed assault on the senses. There grow gaudy dahlias, spicy carnations, velvety roses, show-off zinnias and stately snap dragons. All are tenderly cared for by my best friend’s father, a welder, whose scarred hands needed the quiet respite from the clamor of his day job. My bestie and I gently sway in tandom on the cushioned metal swing he crafted himself, catching wafts of the salty sea breeze laced with the choir of floral scents.
There’s the cracked, leathery hands of the seminary compound’s gardener offering me a bite of his breakfast under the shade of the fig tree lending us its knobby trunk as a recliner. I used to follow him around and ask him way too many “why” questions! The still steaming raw liver and crunchy chunk of sweet onion nestled in a torn off, tender pocket of pita bread tasted good because it was gently proferred from his fingers into my mouth. For an extra treat, he plucked a perfectly ripe fig, delicately peeled the orb with his calloused fingers, and popped it in my mouth. We exchanged a smile and sigh of contentment. He didn’t say much as I followed him around the terraced campus gardens learning how to water, how to check for diseases, how to pick vegetables at the peak of ripeness, and how to squat quietly amongst the red dirt furrows watching the pollinators flitting from one vegetable blossom to another.
There’s the garden across the globe from Lebanon, a tiny backyard allotment, my Scottish grandfather’s plot anchored by a green painted toolshed. Inside was an immaculately organized array of tools lined up in a row on pegs, a well-worn dented wheel barrow, and a barrel of home-cultured compost. Grandad entertained me with stories as we sat on the damp ground with our backs to the green shed out of sight of grandmother’s bedroom window as he smoked his pipe. We were supposed to be picking strawberries for our tea-time “pudding!” Between puffs, I learned about cold crops like lettuce, sugar snap peas, spinach, and strawberries. Grandad’s twinkling blue eyes shaded by his tweed wool cap taught me the joys of gardening and the benefits to the soul. He regaled me with stories of all his gardens from the Scottish Highlands of his youth, to the estate gardens of a Laird for whom he worked as the gate keeper living in the tiny gate keeper’s cottage with his wife raising three rambunctious sons. I learned from him that wherever you live, plant a garden, and a house becomes a home.
Are you challenged to pass on your own passion?
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yeilds its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.